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News : Verizon Seeks to Close City Call Center
Glens Falls, NY, USA, May 2, 2016 -- The Glens Falls Verizon call center would be closed under the company’s "last best final offer" to union employees, according to details of a proposed contract made public last week.
Verizon said the Glens Falls operation, with about 50 on staff, would be consolidated with an Albany Verizon office, though Glens Falls employees would be offered "the opportunity to voluntarily leave the business with a special incentive offer."
Employees who are transferred would receive $2,000 to help them with the commute, although employees who qualify for home relocation benefits would get an extra $5,000 in the consolidation, according to the Verizon proposal.
"Because of the way our job security language is written, (closing the Glens Falls office) is not an option for them, and that’s one of the sticking points in this whole negotiation," said Rick Bachland, a union steward for Communication Workers of America Local 1104.
The company and the CWA have been at odds since June, when negotiations began for a new labor agreement. In mid-April, thousands of Verizon employees, including some in Glens Falls, went on strike, picketing Verizon offices.
A group was picketing in the rain in front of the Glen Street office Monday, but they said they were not authorized to speak to a reporter.
Three other call centers are also targeted for consolidation in the proposed contract, including a site in Dunkirk, south of Buffalo, that employs 21; a site in Oneonta and one in Rome. The latter two offices employ three people each, according to the company document.
The Oneonta office would also be consolidated with the Albany facility, according to the proposal.
The Glens Falls office has been losing employees in recent years, as computer automation has lessened the need for call center assistance, Bachand said.
"When I started in 1996, we only did calls in New York state, and there were 145 people working in this office," he said. "With the advent of automated systems, we are down to 50 to 55 people now, and we’re doing calls for the entire footprint (all of the U.S.)."
Call center employees provide directory assistance, help with connecting long-distance calls and help callers reach the various Verizon departments appropriate to each caller’s needs, Bachand said.
"It’s necessary work," Bachand said. "It doesn’t generate a ton of profit, but it’s so our customers can use our services."
Verizon spokesman Rich Young said consolidation of call centers has been a part of the contract negotiations since June, when the first offer was presented to the unions. In addition to Local 1104, CWA Local 1118 is covered under the contract in question.
"This (call center work) has been a declining business for more than a decade, as more and more Americans simply no longer use the operator," Young said. "The Internet has largely changed the way consumers look for information, and this business is reflecting the change in society."
The document made public by Verizon last week – providing some details of the proposed labor agreement – included a plan to increase Verizon employees’ wages by 7.5 percent over three years.
Bachand said the wage increase is being used to distract employees from the issue of reduced job security.
"Verizon’s insistence in focusing on wage increases is just to distract from the fact that they’re taking jobs out of the area," he said. "It’s the company just trying to take money out of our communities and hand it over to Wall Street. It’s not as if they’re losing money and need to save."
Young said eliminating call centers is a common-sense move.
"This is union malarkey," he said. "We’re in the business of finding the best ways to serve our customers. This is not about Wall Street. It’s about running an effective business efficiently and successfully."
Young said talks were being held Monday in New York and Philadelphia between Verizon officials and union leaders to try to work out an agreement.
On Friday, Verizon said it was deploying thousands of additional employees and contractors to handle work previously done by striking employees.
"While we’d rather have our seasoned veterans in these positions, each day, more and more customers are giving us high marks in that their inquiries and issues are being successfully resolved in our call centers and in the field," said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon’s wireline network operations, in a prepared statement. "We are taking additional steps to ensure our services are available as our customers deserve and expect."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, May 4, 2016