Nearly 300 workers at an E-ZPass Customer Service Center on Staten Island could lose their jobs because the solicitation for a new service provider does not require retaining them, according to their union and U.S. Rep. Max Rose.
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels division request for proposals does not require the provider to retain the current workforce, nor does it require that it accept a union.
Add to Borough's Stability
"The current EZPass customer service center has provided nearly 300 jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits for over a decade," Congressman Rose stated in a letter to the MTA. "Most of these workers live on Staten Island and are workers of color and their jobs provide Staten Island families with the economic stability and opportunity upon which their communities rely."
He continued, "The loss of these jobs would be a massive setback for our community. ... I therefore request that there be contractual guarantees that the contract awardee will retain the current workforce in Staten Island and that these jobs will stay good, family-supporting jobs."
Mr. Rose is supporting the bipartisan Call Center and Consumer Protection Act to deter companies from exporting American jobs overseas and reward them for locating in the U.S.
"It's unconscionable that during an ongoing public-health crisis and an unpredictable economy, the livelihoods of almost 300 workers at the Staten Island E-Z Pass Center are in jeopardy," said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor. "As the MTA considers rebidding this contract, worker retention and protecting these jobs must be the top priority."
An MTA source familiar with the RFP said there was "no prohibition on a future contractor from utilizing unionized staff" and bidders were free to use "the existing call center facility" as well as the existing staff.
"The MTA, Port Authority and NYS Thruway Authority, on behalf of ourselves and the three other E-ZPass New York partner agencies--the New York State Bridge Authority, Thousand Islands Bridge Authority and Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority --are committed to ensuring a transparent, open, competitive and robust bidding process for the E-ZPass call center contract," wrote an MTA spokesman. "All of us are proud to serve the great state of New York, and as such, we have required that any future call centers be located within the state."
It took the Staten Island E-ZPass workers 36 months to win union representation and their first contract in 2011. Workers who were fired for supporting the organizing drive eventually got their jobs back or were given the option to collect back pay that they were owed if they decided not to return.
The union contract was the first of its kind in the E-ZPass system, which included guaranteed pay levels, free generic-drug prescriptions, limits on subcontracting of work, improved flexibility for taking vacation time, and improved job security.
Hard Fight to Unionize
In 2009, the Staten Island E-ZPass workers reached out to the CWA for representation. Their employer at the time, the Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), adopted an aggressive anti-union strategy that targeted the lead organizers. ACS also used multiple appeals to the National Labor Relations Board in a bid to stave off unionization.
Last year, Albany passed the New York Call Center Jobs Act aimed at preventing the outsourcing of telework jobs from the state. Under that legislation, call-center employers with more than 50 employees were no longer eligible for tax breaks or other incentives if they moved 30 percent or more of their operations out of state. The measure also mandated that state agencies use New York call centers for their customer service.
According to the CWA, there are more than 260,000 call-center workers in New York, but over the last 12 years, the state lost almost 40,000 jobs in that field.
For years companies were offshoring call center work out of the U.S. but Forbes reported that since the 2008 recession, rising consumer dissatisfaction with the quality of offshore customer service prompted some companies to repatriate their operations.
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