AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill designed to keep call centers in Maine from exporting jobs overseas is working its way through the Legislature amid concerns from opponents who say the bill would do the opposite.
LD 1710, An Act to Retain Call Centers in Maine, would require the Department of Labor to keep track of call centers that have relocated from Maine to a foreign country. Employers on that list would be ineligible for state grants, loans or tax benefits for a period of five years. It would require employers who have received state aid for the call centers and moved employees overseas to repay a portion of the benefits. It also authorizes a fine of $10,000 be assessed for call center owners who don’t notify the state of a relocation within four months and requires that all call center work contracted by state agencies be done within the state.
Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who sponsored the bill, said his intent is to keep Maine jobs in Maine while protecting taxpayer investments in economic development.
”I don’t understand the opposition to this bill,” said Jackson on Tuesday. “This is about protecting taxpayer dollars. I think this makes sure we’re using companies that want to stay in Maine for a number of years.”
Representatives from the state departments of labor and economic development opposed the bill. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, also railed against it during comments on the House floor on Tuesday.
“The unintended consequence of this bill is that it would be a major disincentive for call centers to come to Maine,” said Fredette. “I think this bill is a job killer.”
The bill has support from the Maine AFL-CIO.
“Maine people do not want their tax dollars subsidizing the offshoring of jobs,” said Don Berry, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, in a written statement.
Krista Jensen, a Fairpoint call center worker from Westbrook, said in a written statement that the bill would promote transparency in the industry.
“Consumers deserve to know companies that are offshoring Maine jobs,” she said. “This bill gives us that information. It also ensures that Maine is practicing what we preach by having the state of Maine do its call center work in state.”
On Monday, the Senate voted 20-15 in favor of the bill along party lines with the exception of Sen. Roger Sherman. R-Hodgdon, who voted with Democrats for the bill. On Tuesday, the House followed suit with a 79-67 vote in favor of the bill. The bill faces more votes in the House and Senate.
Jason Levesque, owner of Argo Marketing Group, which employs 450 employees at call centers in Portland, Lewiston and Pittsfield, said aside from the bill deterring new companies from coming to Maine — which in the call center sector, often starts with a pilot project, he said — it unfairly targets a single industry.
“Why does a state legislature want to legislate contact centers more than any other industry?” said Levesque. “No company wants a state to dictate what they can and cannot do in the future.”
LD 1710 faces more votes in the House and Senate. If enacted, lawmakers would need to find funding for it — more than $35,000 a year — to pay for staff time and infrastructure to maintain the database.