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N.J. Senate panel considers call center measure

Mon, 06/18/2012 - 2:48pm
The Associated Press

New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday considered penalizing companies that move call center jobs overseas by making those companies ineligible for state grants, loans and tax benefits for three years.

The Senate Economic Growth Committee discussed the bill but didn't vote on it. The Assembly approved a similar measure in March.

The measure would also require call centers to notify the state labor commissioner when relocating overseas. That information would be available on the state labor commissioner's website.

Verizon and the Communications Workers of America clashed at the hearing over the reasons for a drop in call center employment.

The CWA's Bob Master told lawmakers that Verizon's call center workforce in New Jersey has declined over the last 10 years, with most jobs sent overseas, all while receiving state subsidies.

Verizon officials said employment has gone down, but only because of a decline in the landline business.

Master said consumers should have the right to know which companies are sending jobs overseas and expressed concern about protecting customer security and privacy when jobs are sent overseas.

"The bottom line from our perspective is we believe that this is a really modest proposal to try to discourage very profitable companies like Verizon and others like it in the industry from sending work overseas," Master said.

Marion Cuttino of CWA Local 1022, who works for Verizon, said lawmakers need to send a message to companies to rebuild New Jersey and stop sending jobs overseas.

"If companies like Verizon won't invest in New Jersey, then New Jersey needs to stop investing in Verizon," Cuttino said.

But Ulises Diaz of Verizon told lawmakers off-shoring jobs is a national issue and should be dealt with at the federal level. He warned passing the legislation would put New Jersey at a competitive disadvantage and pointed out the company built a call center in Freehold in 2006.

"At that point, if this bill had been in place, we probably would have built it somewhere else," Diaz said.

Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said suggestions that the company is moving jobs overseas from New Jersey are false. He said the company employs 14,000 people in New Jersey, is one of the state's largest investors of private capital, and suggested the CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are using the issue as a contract negotiation tactic.

"Despite the misleading claims by union leaders, employment in our call centers has dropped, not because jobs have outsourced, but because the size of our landline business has dropped over the past decade as consumers turn to other technologies for their communications needs," Gierczynski said.

Gierczynski said even though the company isn't outsourcing jobs right now, they oppose the measure because it's hard to predict what the future may hold for a global business like Verizon.

"While Verizon New Jersey may not be outsourcing jobs per se to other locations, Verizon as a corporation has employees on five continents and customers in more than 150 companies, and businesses like Verizon need the flexibility to deploy resources to other areas," he said.

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