Millions of jobs lost as corporations continue to set up overseas call centers

My Upstate South Carolina, November 25th Sunday paper was late. That’s unusual. Its really only happened a few times before. I traipsed out into the chill of a South Carolina late fall morning wearing my ratty jean jacket tucked under my decade-old down parka with a flying goose emblazoned inside a circle on the left pec area. And yes, we’ve been having desert-like weather here in the Upstate, with warm days and very nippy nights.

I have a big front yard and acres of backyard in my rural setting and as I climbed the rather steep, short hill to take me across the road to the green box housing my paper (Peyton Manning couldn’t throw the paper far enough to reach my porch), I noticed the green box housed nothing, certainly not the paper. It was 7:10 AM, well past the usual arrival time for my right-wing reading matter.

I decided to call the circulation department. Granted, it was early, but still late in terms of the paper’s normal delivery. I was advised to wait for the “next available agent.” As I always do in such cases, I clicked on the speaker-phone and continued reading a recent New Yorker magazine article called ‘Washington Man’. About 5 minutes into ‘Washington Man’, I heard a male voice and picked up the phone. I provided my name and address and was informed that the voice had been told there were technical issues at the paper and, fear not, it will show up as soon as those problems are settled. Fair enough I thought and thanked the man for his help and information.

It was only after hanging up that it dawned on me that the usual charming southern drawl for these parts had been replaced by a distinctly foreign accent. An accent I erroneously identified in my mind as Indian. Outsourcing for a small Upstate South Carolina newspaper? An hour later my second journey to the skinny green box was rewarded with the log-shaped rolled up clump known as the Sunday Paper. USC 27, Clemson 17 dominated the front page. Football is a huge deal in SC.

I told my wife about my earlier international phone sojourn to India (still misidentifying the country) and how I should have asked the fellow where he was located.

Being a child of the South, my dear spouse, who we shall call ‘Red’, not because of any socialist tendencies, but because she’s a genuine and gorgeous redhead, continues to be mortified by my Yankee impertinence and unseemly directness in defiance of civil convention. To wit, I stick my nose in other people’s business. It stuns me that after 32 years of such husbandly behavior, she’s still mortified. I would have divorced me long ago. She’s never done so, proving once again that even in the Deep South, there can be something to love about a Yankee.

I decided to call the circulation department once more under the guise of informing the person at the other end of the line that the paper had arrived and my thanks for all their help. This is exactly what I did and as my wife’s attentions were directed elsewhere, I asked my question, “Where are you located?” This different, but equally-accented male voice politely answered “The Philippines.” I had all I needed. I thanked him once again for his swift and effective response and replaced the receiver. It was time to go into research mode. First of all I realized these Filipinos were 13 hours further into their day when they fielded my call. When the clock passes noon in your domicile, it’s the next day in the Philippines. Many workers in that archipelago are pulling all-nighters just to serve their American base.

I soon found out there was a veritable call center revolution going on in the Philippines. American companies were flooding the estimated 800 call centers and according to CNN leaving over $11 billion dollars to be converted into Philippine Peso’s (PHP’s). That’s 800 call centers employing 600,000 workers who serve primarily American businesses. On the GlobalSky, Pasig City, Philippine’s call center Headquarters home page, the American Chief Operating Officer, Tony Cassar talks of the “importance of bringing in the Western Business Culture.” The site describes GlobalSky as “Your outsourcing business partner.”

India adds some 400,000 call center workers to the mix. That’s 1 million jobs between the 2 countries. I would estimate that at least 750,000 U.S. workers were victimized by the switch to these overseas cheapos.

My wife, a committed true-believer liberal (none of that Carville/Matalin thing for us) is, nonetheless, much less emotional and far more pragmatic about this issue. She says, given the large wage differential, there’s no way you’re going to persuade these major corporations to locate their call centers in the U.S. To which I responded, you’d better persuade major corporations to set up their call center in the U.S. In this one sector alone, there are likely well over a million jobs slingshotted out of America to India, the Philippines and other faraway slightly accented venues. That’s serious job loss.

In U.S. corporate dollar terms, a Philippine call center employee hauls in about $300 a month to jabber with pissed-off Americans. Probably pissed off because they lost their jobs to Philippine call centers. Executives told the N.Y. Times that it really wasn’t a matter of wages insofar as a Filipino call center employee actually makes $100 more a month than his or her counterpart in India. That’s not the point. The point is the differential between either of those countries and an American worker. That figures out to be 5 to 6 times less pay in the Philippines than the equivalent in the U.S.

One of the companies quoted was AT & T. They average around $20 billion a year in profits, though some years due to write-downs, noncash charges, acquisition mind changing and other financial esoterica, that number can appear to be less. The company is worth hundreds of billions, but apparently desperately needs the relative chicken feed that American call centers would represent.

There is supposedly a move to bring call centers back to the U.S. I doubt that will impact net job loss. To ensure that Congress saves call center and millions of other jobs from outsourcing makes the 2014 election even more important than 2012.

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