Newark, NJ, USA, April, 2020 -- Call center employees are accusing international corporations with locations in New Jersey of not doing enough to secure their health and safety in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Individuals employed at call centers for both Wells Fargo, which has 275 branches in New Jersey, as well as Conduent, which has 12 state locations including a headquarters in Florham Park, have issued critical statements against their companies in a press release shared with NJ Advance Media by the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
The CWA represents 700,000 workers in public and private sector employment fields, including telecommunications and information technology throughout 1,200 chartered CWA local unions.
Carl Sandstrom, an executive specialist at a Wells Fargo branch located in Hillsboro, Oregon, demanded that Wells Fargo treat its employees "with some respect" in light of various workers testing positive for the virus.
"It is crystal clear that the bank has been too slow in taking adequate steps to ensure our safety. That is unacceptable," Sandstrom said. "We need immediate action from Wells Fargo to safeguard the health and safety of all call center workers."
Wells Fargo spokesperson Crystal Dundas said that since the onset of the outbreak, Wells Fargo has "taken significant action to protect employee safety."
"We are enabling as many employees as possible to work from home, enhancing social distancing measures, staggering staff and shifts, performing enhanced cleaning, and implementing the CDC’s guidelines of six feet of space between individuals," Dundas said. "Specific to contact centers, though not all jobs can be done remotely, we are equipping an increasing number of our contact center employees with the technology needed to perform their jobs from home, while still meeting customer and regulatory commitments."
She added that thousands of contact center employees "are now or soon will be working from home," with those who remain in the office working in staggered shifts and maintaining "appropriate social distances from one another."
Acknowledging that a number of Wells Fargo employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Dundas said in those instances the company has asked colleagues who have been in close contact with those individuals to remain at home for a period of 14 calendar days, complete a comprehensive disinfection protocol, and communicate transparently with other employees.
Beyond Wells Fargo, Conduent employees based in both its Cherry Hill and Staten Island locations have similarly expressed their disapproval with the company’s response to COVID-19.
A Conduent agent from Cherry Hill who chose to maintain anonymity in the press release said not enough health and sanitary precautions have been taken within the local branch.
"We are in tiny cubicles. Every three to three-and-a-half feet, there’s another person next to you," the agent said. "They do not supply us with cleaning supplies to clean our desks. There are no signs reminding people how to wash your hands or how to cover your cough. Sanitation stations are empty. Sometimes when you go to the bathroom, the soap dispensers are empty or the batteries have died. They never prop open a window, they don’t change the air filters; they never vacuum the floors or mop the bathrooms. We take that back to our cars; to our kids; to our homes.
"During this pandemic, they should be on top of this," the worker added. "It is their responsibility to keep us healthy to help us serve our customers."
Sean Collins, senior director of external communications for Conduent, said the company has taken "extensive measures at all of our sites to keep employees safe," including allowing more than 60 percent of its employees to work from home.
In offices where onsite presence is required, Collins said Conduent has increased cleaning and sanitation procedures and implemented workspace adjustments and social distancing protocols.
"Our Cherry Hill facility has 513 employees delivering mission-critical human resource services for global organizations, serving 54 clients and 5.6 million of their employees, who depend on us for healthcare coverage processing and retirement calculations. Our clients and their employees rely on us, especially during this unprecedented time," Collins said.
Beyond New Jersey, Steve Sheil, an employee at a Conduent call center in Staten Island — which services the Port Authority, the New York State Thruway and the Metropolitan Transit Authority — said most of his colleagues have been required to continue working in the office and received salary cuts in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
"At the start of the coronavirus, I was a full-time employee. I am now a part-time employee. They slashed my salary. They did that to everybody," he said. "A lot of people are scared to speak up. They’re afraid to lose their jobs. When we ask about working from home, it’s just story after story. It’s like beating a dead horse, like they’re just hoping we give up."
Collins said Conduent has taken actions in collaboration with the Communications Workers of America to protect its employees at the Staten Island facility and "meet the requirements of our contracts while optimizing social distancing."
"At our Staten Island facility, 298 employees deliver critical services to support millions of motorists with tolling accounts," Collins said. "We have implemented work from home where feasible and taken a number of steps ... such as modified operating hours, split and staggered shifts, assigned and spaced seating — all of which minimize the number of personnel at the facility at any given time."
While stating that Conduent "respectfully disagrees" with its characterization by the CWA, Collins added the company "will continue to closely monitor and evaluate the situation" alongside government and health officials "to safeguard our employees and clients and keep them informed."
The CWA release also includes employees of other major call center operators who dually expressed concerns regarding their companies’ response to the coronavirus. These businesses include Alorica and The Results Companies, which do not have any locations in New Jersey, and CyraCom International, which has large-scale contact centers spread across Texas, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and New York and a smaller American Sign Language contact center in Cherry Hill.
The CWA is also supporting call center workers that have spoken out against Maximus, an international outsourcing company headquartered in Virginia with a consultant office in Eatontown.
According to the release, union-represented international companies including Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink and American Airlines have all negotiated quickly with the CWA to implement temporary telework arrangements and emergency paid leave that covers school closures, high risk individuals and caregiving responsibilities.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
About Communications Workers of America:
Communications Workers of America (CWA) is the largest communications and media labor union in the United States, representing about 550,000 members in both the private and public sectors. The union has 27 locals in Canada via CWA-SCA Canada (Syndicat des communications d’Amérique) representing about 8,000 members. CWA has several affiliated subsidiary labor unions bringing total membership to over 700,000. CWA is headquartered in Washington, DC, and affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress, and Union Network International. The current president is Larry Cohen, a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council.
Published: Monday, April 20, 2020
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