News : AT&T's El Paso Workforce Dwindles
El Paso, TX, USA, Oct. 4, 2017 -- AT&T, which seven years ago was one of El Paso's largest private employers with about 2,400 employees, apparently will have less than 500 workers here when it shutters its last El Paso call center next month.
The company plans a November closure of its call center at 12 Founders Blvd. in East El Paso, which employs 278 non-management workers. Those employees will have to decide between moving to AT&T centers in Missouri, Florida, or San Antonio, or be laid off. Some workers may qualify for early retirement.
It also has an unspecified number of employees in a back-office operation at the facility who are being moved to a new El Paso location.
The company once had three El Paso call centers with hundreds of employees. It also employs technicians and a handful of people in five AT&T-operated retail stores in El Paso.
The planned closure of its last El Paso call center comes as the Dallas-based company relies more on contracted call centers in foreign countries, according to a recent report from the Communication Workers of America, or CWA, the union representing thousands of AT&T workers across the country.
Since 2011, AT&T has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs in the United States, closing and downsizing call centers across the country, according to the report published in May.
"We have been pressing Congress and many state legislatures to pass legislation that would ban companies that offshore call center jobs from getting taxpayer funded grants and loans," Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the CWA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in an email.
Carmen Mata, president of the CWA Local 6733 in El Paso and a longtime worker in the AT&T call center, said she has no doubts that a big portion of AT&T's call center work previously done in El Paso is now being done by contracted vendors.
But Marty Richter, a St. Louis-based spokesman for AT&T, said in an email that none of El Paso's call center jobs were sent to out-of-country contractors. Some jobs were lost to attrition, and some were moved elsewhere in the U.S., he said.
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State Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, said AT&T's plan to close its El Paso call center is "devastating for the employees, and ultimately to the economy of El Paso."
The annual salaries for those jobs range from $32,000 to $65,000 per year, plus commissions, and health and retirement benefits, based on information from the CWA, he said.
The CWA's Mata agreed the lost AT&T jobs will be bad for El Paso.
"These are high-paying jobs that provide health(care) benefits and provide a very good lifestyle for a lot of people," Mata said.
Some people in the El Paso call center make as much as $100,000 a year with salary and commissions, she said.
Blanco said he got El Paso's state legislative delegation to send a Sept. 21 letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, asking officials to reconsider their decision to close the El Paso call center.
Richter said company officials have no public comment on the letter.
"It’s important to note that there is a job for every employee who is willing to relocate to the facilities where the work is being consolidated," and they will get a relocation allowance if they have to move, Richter said in an email.
"We’re adding people in many areas of our business where we’re seeing increased customer demand for products and services," and reducing jobs in areas where work volumes are decreasing, "in part because of changing technology," Richter said.
After the call center closes, the CWA union will have about 350 members in El Paso either working in five AT&T-operated retail stores, as technicians or as part of a small number in the back-office group staying in El Paso, Mata reported. Many workers in that group are not union members, she said.
Sid Searcy, a retired AT&T technician who was president of the El Paso CWA local from 2000 to 2012, said his company sources estimated that less than 100 people work in the back-office group, which processes payments to AT&T employees and vendors.
So, AT&T's total employment in El Paso will drop to about 450 people or less at the end of the year, according to the estimates.
The back-office workers at the Founders Boulevard building are being moved to 1575 Resler in the Northwest Corporate Center in West El Paso, where AT&T and its predecessor companies operated a call center beginning in 2001.
It moved out of that building in June 2016, Richter said, but now plans to lease a portion of the 93,000 square-foot building. Two other companies are expected to also be located in that building.
"Most of the call center employees" could opt to move to San Antonio, which was recently added as another relocation option, Richter said. Mata estimated about half of the 278 non-management employees in the center have the San Antonio option.
Mata, whose worked 20 years with AT&T, said relocating outside the city is not an option for her because she has three children and her husband, an AT&T technician, in El Paso.
Many workers at the El Paso call center likely won't move, but some may qualify for early retirement, she said. Mata is three years shy of qualifying for early retirement.
Searcy, the retired CWA local president, said, "Since 2010, AT&T in Dallas has raked El Paso over the coals."
"We used to be a leader in sales and (employee) attendance" within the company, he said. "El Paso is not getting the respect that's due to the (20th) largest city in the U.S."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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