Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wants to put a stop to U.S. companies that transfer customer service calls halfway around the world.
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Schumer is introducing legislation that would charge U.S. companies a 25 cent excise tax for each call they transfer to a foreign call center, but there would be no tax imposed if the call stayed here in the U.S. Companies that transferred calls overseas would have to provide a quarterly report to the Federal Trade Commission of how many customer service calls they have received, and how many they transferred abroad.
Companies would also have to tell callers when their calls were being routed to a foreign call center and to which country. The taxes purportedly would be used to help support privacy and labor standards in other countries, though exactly how that would work isnt clear.
Schumer argued that many of the countries where the calls are routed dont have the same rigorous privacy standards that we have here in the U.S. (He obviously wasnt talking about Facebook users.) The most prevalent countries where callers are being routed are India, Indonesia, Ireland, the Philippines and South Africa.
The U.S. lost 250,000 call center jobs between 2001 and 2003 to India and the Philippines, according to one Connecticut-based telemarketing company, but in fact, the trend of outsourcing customer service calls overseas has mostly declined in recent years. One reason is the negative reaction that many customers have expressed, often loudly, when their calls were all too obviously routed overseas.
A 2005 study by Cornell University found that the vast majority of call centers still operate from within the U.S. The National Association of Call Centers reported that while U.S. call centers lost jobs in the last quarter of 2008 due to the recession, the number of jobs at U.S. call centers actually increased in 2009.
Still, that doesnt mean the U.S. call center industry is in the greatest financial health. More call centers closed than opened in the final quarter of last year, and some states like New York and Texas were particularly hard hit.
While the Schumer bills main purpose is to save jobs here in the U.S., its most likely supporters are probably going to be those who have spent countless frustrating hours on the phone trying to explain to someone in a tech support call center abroad exactly why their computer or TV wont work, only to be abruptly disconnected. Even for those who generally oppose tax increases, this may be one proposal that ends up being less taxing on their patience.