Why Congress should get behind the bipartisan ‘U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act’

There’s a growing and bipartisan consensus that Congress needs to do more to strengthen American industries and put American workers first. From trade agreements to outsourcing policy, we are engaging in an overdue conversation that cuts across usual ideologies. However, while most of the discussion thus far has focused on the manufacturing sector, American service sector jobs need to be part of this important conversation. 

In particular, call center and customer service industry jobs are a major and underappreciated economic force in the United States, including for our constituents. There are 54,000 call center jobs in the Greater Houston area alone and 17,000 in the state of West Virginia. Nationwide, there are about 4 million people employed by the call center and customer service industry.

{mosads}These are good jobs, which in many American communities serve as a key pillar of local economies.

However, many call center jobs have been shipped overseas in the past decade, as companies look to slash benefits and pay dramatically lower wages overseas. Between the years 2006 and 2014, the U.S. lost more than 200,000 call center jobs, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

This off-shoring trend comes at a tremendous cost to America. As a new report from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) titled “Why Shipping Call Center Jobs Overseas Hurts Us Back Home” reminds us, off-shoring call center jobs is harmful to the security of U.S. consumers’ sensitive information, as well as bad for American workers and communities.

The overdue bipartisan focus on strengthening American workers’ hands, and the new CWA report, both make a strong case for the “U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act.” This bipartisan legislation, which we recently introduced in the House alongside a companion Senate bill from Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), would deter companies from shipping American jobs overseas and incentivize them to locate in the U.S. Our bill would create a public list of ‘bad actor’ companies who shipped all or most of their service work overseas. Being on the list would make these actors ineligible for certain federal grants or taxpayer-funded guaranteed loans.

Additionally, this legislation would require overseas call centers to disclose their locations to customers and would require them to comply with U.S. consumers’ request to be transferred to a service agent physically located in the U.S. if the customer preferred.

Not only would our legislation help strengthen the American workforce, but it would improve American consumers’ customer service experience and the security of consumers’ personal information. The CWA report is filled with examples of security breaches emanating from overseas call centers and targeting Americans, such as a massive scam operating out of an Indian call center that, per the Department of Justice, bilked more than 15,000 Americans out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The number of incidents described in the CWA report reminds us that existing mechanisms for reining in call center fraud in overseas locations remain inadequate and that it’s past time to reverse the off-shoring trend and bring many of these call center jobs back home.

We are heartened by the growing bipartisan conversation on putting American workers first. We now urge our colleagues in Congress to take the next step and to back our legislation, the “U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act.” 

Green represents Texas’s 29th District and McKinley represents West Virginia’s 1st District.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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