CONTRIBUTORS

Call centers want to take the tax money and run, but we can stop them

Posted April 13, 2014, at 11:48 a.m.
George Danby

Republicans in Maine have been talking for years about the necessity of bringing jobs to our state. And I couldn’t agree more. Maine communities and families depend on private employers creating well-paying jobs here. For this reason, our legislature and governor have instituted many incentives to bring companies to the state.

But what’s to stop these big corporations from coming to Maine, gobbling up all of those tax benefits and then moving offshore, leaving taxpayers and workers holding the bag? I say we need to hold companies accountable; if companies want incentives to come to Maine, those companies should invest in Maine for the long term.

The industry I work in — telecommunications — is especially ripe for sending call center jobs offshore, as you probably know if you’ve made a customer service call lately. I am one of the 20,000 or so Mainers who work in call centers and live in constant fear of our jobs being sent to a country where work is cheap and quality is low.

In 2008, my employer — FairPoint Communications — sent many Maine call center jobs to Canada. If it hadn’t been for my union filing a federal suit to protect me and my coworkers, we could have lost our jobs. The 200 workers at Bank of America’s Orono call center weren’t so lucky when they were all laid off two years ago. They didn’t have a union to protect them.

The legislature is considering a bill — LD 1710 — that will hold companies with call centers accountable. Any company that ships call center jobs offshore would be subject to public listing of its name on a state website, and it would be ineligible for future incentives for several years. The disclosure element is especially important because it allows consumers to vote with their pocketbooks. If a company is sending Maine jobs overseas, Mainers can choose to do business elsewhere.

That’s not all LD 1710 would do. The bill also would prohibit state contractors from using offshore call centers for state business going forward. That means, if you call your state government, you’ll get a Mainer answering your call. Like with the tax incentives provision, Mainers’ hard-earned tax dollars should not be going to pay workers in countries where low wages are paid and there are fewer protections, such as in India and the Philippines.

I wish the federal government would take a stand against sending jobs in all industries offshore. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, one in four American jobs is susceptible to being sent offshore. But until Congress takes action, we need our states to protect those of us who are most vulnerable to having our jobs shipped overseas. And that starts with Maine call center workers.

LD 1710 passed the House and Senate this week and is heading for final approval in each body before the governor will get a chance to sign it. Some Republicans in the Legislature have claimed that this bill will create a “hostile environment” for business in the state. But is it really “hostile” to say Mainers should get something in return for our investment? That just seems to me like smart business. If Mainers are going to invest in companies moving here, those companies should have to invest in us.

I want to thank Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, for championing good, middle-class jobs like mine, and I urge Maine legislators and Gov. Paul LePage to make LD 1710 the law of the land. I’m tired of my tax dollars going to ship Maine jobs offshore. And I bet you are, too.

Krista Jensen is a 17-year veteran of Maine call centers. She currently works for FairPoint Communications in Portland. She lives in Westbrook and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2327.

 

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