Congress

Lawmakers push new bills to deter call centers from leaving the US

Measures adds to ongoing legislative efforts at the state level

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey has reintroduced a bill to protect U.S. call center workers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Anyone who’s had to call customer service in recent years knows the current reality: A vast majority of companies have moved their call centers overseas to save money.

But states, urged on by advocates for U.S. workers, have been fighting back. Two dozen have considered or are considering legislation to deter the moves, and a few have passed bills.

The momentum is now shifting to Congress, where Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has reintroduced Senate legislation to require employers planning to outsource a call center to notify the Labor Department at least 120 days before they do. In the House, Republican David B. McKinley of West Virginia and Democrat Mark Pocan of Wisconsin have a companion bill.

Companies that don’t provide notification could be hit with fines and barred from receiving federal grants or loans for five years.

The Communications Workers of America, a union that represents call center workers, is the lobbying force behind the bills.

Last year, Louisiana became the first state to enact a law requiring companies to disclose their plans to outsource a call center.

Legislation in Colorado, enacted in May, focuses on gathering information regarding the offshoring. A sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Daneya Esgar, took note two years ago when Express Scripts, a prescription drug provider, closed a call center in Pueblo, in her district, and laid off 300 workers.

She sees information gathering as a first step: “There’s gonna be more bills. I just don’t know what that looks like specifically in Colorado yet,” she said. After the Express Scripts layoffs, “people were living in fear and confused about what they were going to do next.”

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