News : Sykes Says Downtown Eugene Call Center Could Stay Open Until Early Next Year
Eugene, OR, USA, Sept, 2017 -- The future for employees at Sykes Enterprises’ downtown Eugene call center has been up in the air for the past year.
Sykes, which provides customer contact for global clients in communications, financial services and other industries, announced that it would close the Eugene center last October, laying off 418 workers. But that layoff did not happen because Sykes found a client at the last minute. Then late last month, Sykes announced that the center would close on Oct. 31, laying off 181 workers.
Now it appears that the Eugene center will stay open beyond Oct. 31 because Sykes again brought on a new client, according to Kim Selph, a spokeswoman at Sykes’ Tampa headquarters, who sent an emailed statement Friday.
Sykes issued the first notice last year about the planned Eugene closure to workers and workforce officials, and then gave a second notice on Aug. 30, Selph wrote.
The notices were prompted by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, a federal labor law that requires most employers with 100 or more workers to give notice 60 days before plant closings and mass layoffs.
Sykes’ "plans can change after a WARN is issued if we find a new partner, and then we have good news for our employees," Selph said. "We did announce this morning an opportunity that will extend (employees’) work at our (Eugene) site for several months."
It’s unclear whether Sykes’ Eugene call center will continue to limp along, or if the new client will only delay the center’s eventual closure. Also unclear is the reason for the 200-plus difference between the 418 employment figure Sykes provided in last year’s notice and the 181 employees listed in the notice issued 10 days ago.
If the center closes, the job losses would further erode the area’s declining call center industry and remove nearly 200 workers from Eugene’s downtown core.
Call centers in Lane County employed 1,855 people in March — the latest figures available, said Brian Rooney, a local labor economist with the state Employment Department. That’s down 111 from 1,966 a year earlier, he said.
"I don’t think there is any overriding reason for cutbacks at call centers," Rooney said. "They have always tended to be very mobile, flexible establishments that come and go. They have also been subject to outsourcing in recent years."
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Among Lane County’s larger call centers are Royal Caribbean in Springfield and Pentagon Federal Credit Union in Eugene.
Others have left, including Enterprise Rent-a-Car, which five years ago shrank its local workforce, closed its downtown Eugene center and shifted to a work-at-home model.
Sykes leases the 44,000-square-foot space near the corner of West Eighth Avenue and Charnelton Street that Enterprise previously occupied. The building is owned by Eugene businessmen Tom Connor and Don Woolley.
Firstsource, a global call center with headquarters in India, last year closed its call center on Chad Drive in northeast Eugene, cutting 275 jobs.
A Firstsource subsidiary, ISGN Solutions Inc., reopened at the same location in late August, Firstsource spokeswoman Amy Fathers said Friday.
It will hire more than 130 employees to serve a mortgage industry client, initially for two years, she said.
Ward Wimbish, director of Greater Eugene Inc., a business recruitment and retention agency, said call centers are "a very fluid industry."
"If a call center wants to come here, we’re not going to turn them away, but they’re not high on our recruiting list," he said.
"We’re focused on companies that make a capital investment in the community and pay at least average wages — hopefully above average wages — and have a career path. Those companies have skin in the game and investment in the community and hopefully will stay here."
Wimbish said the Sykes space is big, well-located and either is connected, or easily could be connected, to the recently installed affordable, high-speed municipal fiber network in downtown Eugene.
The building has on-site parking and access to Lane Transit District bus service and would appeal to a higher-level service center similar to Royal Caribbean, a software developer, or an architectural or engineering firm that "moves a lot of data," Wimbish said.
Sykes employees had been preparing to wind down the Eugene call center by November before word came Friday that it would remain open — at least for a few months longer.
In the Aug. 30 memo, Sykes told its employees: "In today’s customer-driven environment, Sykes continually adapts our operations to meet the changing needs of our clients across the globe. After careful review, business changes have been made that will result in the permanent closure of the Eugene center."
That is the same explanation Sykes gave a year ago when it told workers that the Eugene call center would close by Oct. 30, 2016.
Lane Workforce Partnership, a local agency focused on jobs and training, is responding to Sykes’ most recent notice, said Sue Thompson, the partnership’s director of workforce investments.
Sykes "sent me a WARN notice with 181 names on it" — the total number of employees still working at the Eugene center, she said. "We’ve made contact with Sykes ... and we’ll be getting information to all the affected employees."
Thompson said she didn’t know why there was a 200-employee difference between the employment figure that Sykes provided last year and the one it provided this year.
"I’m wondering if those were open positions they didn’t fill," Thompson said. "Their numbers go up and down depending on how many contracts they have running."
Sykes also has said some laid-off employees might be eligible to continue to work for Sykes from home. The number of Eugene employees who now work for Sykes from home was not available on Friday.
Most of the 181 positions to be cut — 150 — are customer service agents, but trainers, human resources, maintenance workers, managers and the site director also would lose their jobs, according to the latest WARN notice.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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