Feb 01, 2012 (11:02 AM EST)
Bring Call Centers Back To U.S., Bill Proposes

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In an effort to encourage more businesses to locate their customer service operations in the United States, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill in Congress that would penalize companies that place customer call centers offshore.

"We believe we've lost 500,000 good paying jobs" to offshore call centers, Bishop said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. Bishop's U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 3596) would prohibit companies that place call centers offshore from receiving federal grants or guaranteed loans.

The bill also requires the Department of Labor to maintain a publicly available list of companies--many of which are tech vendors--that operate offshore call centers. And it forces offshore call center workers to disclose their location to consumers and transfer them to a U.S.-based agent on request.

Along with job losses, the bill's sponsors blame offshore call centers for placing consumers at risk of identity theft. "We lose a certain amount of control over identity" when data is offshored, said co-sponsor Rep. Dave McKinley (R-W.Va.), during the call. McKinley did not cite any actual examples of consumer data being compromised at an offshore call center.

[ Onshore? Offshore? What is the latest trend? Read India’s HCL Hiring 10,000 In U.S., Europe. ]

The bill also has union backing from Communications Workers of America, which represents more than 150,000 domestic call center and customer service workers.

"Americans are fed up with good call center jobs here in the United States being shipped overseas," said CWA chief of staff Ron Collins. "The bill does not prevent a corporation from moving, if they want, but it prevents them from gaining access to our tax dollars while they do that."

Bishop singled out India and the Philippines as the biggest threats to the U.S. call center industry. "The fact that the Indian government and the Filipino government are both mobilizing their lobbying forces so as to fight this bill underlines for me just how important it is that we pass this bill," said Bishop. "If the amount of work they're getting from the United States is that important to their economy then it obviously is going to be very important to our economy as well."

Earlier this week, Indian finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said anti-outsourcing initiatives such as Bishop's bill and President Obama's call for insourcing could end up hurting the U.S. economy more than they help. "Protectionism ultimately does not help the country that resorts to protectionism," said Mukherjee, during a visit to Chicago.

The bill is currently in the House Energy and Commerce committee's subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade. Bishop said he's confident that it will make it to the House floor for a vote and pick up a counterpart in the Senate. "The effort we have to be engaged in right now is building co-sponsors," said Bishop.

"Once we can show the leadership that we have bi-partisan support, that it's important to a great many of us in terms of our districts, and it's important to our country then the chances of us getting a hearing dramatically improve," he said.

Even if the bill does make it to the floor for a vote, it could have a tough time gaining passage in the Republican-dominated House. Of its 25 co-sponsors, only three are GOP members.

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