It’s an open secret that Verizon outsources its customer-service phone operations. But now that the telecom giant’s wireline workforce is on strike, paralyzing 13,000 US call-center jobs indefinitely, frustrated customer complaints have flooded subcontracted overseas operators, triggering restive feedback from exhausted workers in Asia, and perhaps extending the Communications Workers of America (CWA) picket lines to the Philippines.
The contact began when a Filipino call-center workers’ advocacy group, BIEN Pilipinas, reached out to US strikers via Facebook. A few messages later, a CWA delegation was en route to the Philippines to see who was doing the jobs that they weren’t.
The delegation of union staff and call-center workers met a small group of Teletech Nova workers in early May, along with BIEN activists, left-leaning union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), and global labor federation UNI. They discussed the labor conditions at local third-party call centers and began a budding trans-Pacific collaboration. When attempting to visit a Verizon building near Manila on May 11, however, the group was menacingly confronted by a group of armed men, pursued outside, and later briefly detained by a police “SWAT team,” according to CWA’s documentation. The US activists departed safely, but the Teletech workers have since reported retaliation against at least two staffers. (CWA recently filed a formal unfair-labor-practice charge.)
BIEN organizer Michael Concepcion mused that some business commentators have chided the workers’ outreach by appealing to economic nationalism, arguing “the job loss for them is job generation here.” Concepcion takes a different angle on the industrial power configurations: “We answer that our solidarity is based on the workers’ fight…. It’s a global fight of job security and…a decent living wage.” In the long run, “this is a race to the bottom. What they really need is cheap labor, and it’s not sustainable, because when they can find cheaper labor in other countries, these companies will go to the other countries.”
Reportedly earning about $1.78 an hour (middling earnings relative to the legal wage floor of about $10 a day), the subcontracted workers evidently see few comparable gains from CWA workers’ loss. A visit with call center workers helped delegates connect the dots between parallel labor tiers—connecting $36-an-hour union workers at an Allentown call center with their disembodied offshore vocal surrogates in packed cubicles in Quezon City.