Costly communications

Union reps: Frontier Cd'A call center closing so cheaper workers can be hired in South Carolina

COEUR d'ALENE - Union representatives said this week that the more than 100 employees at the Frontier Communications Corp. call center in Coeur d'Alene are losing their jobs so the company can turn around and hire cheaper labor in South Carolina.

In May, the Stamford, Conn.-based telecommunications company announced plans to open a call center in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and hire more than 100 people. The Coeur d'Alene center is to close Sept. 18.

Dave Moore, local president of the Communication Workers of America, said union representatives in Myrtle Beach have reported to him that new hires there will receive $11 per hour while training. Following training they'll be paid $12 per hour, with a five-year wage freeze, Moore said.

The Myrtle Beach call center workers will be handling customer service calls, sales, and internal communications support for the company, he said.

The Coeur d'Alene center's workers have been providing internal communications support for the company, and don't make sales calls or provide customer service, said April Legard, who works at the center and is the employees' union representative.

At the Coeur d'Alene center, the pay ranges from $15 to $21 per hour, she said. The average age of workers is 55.

"Those are family wage jobs," Moore said. "You could own a home and support a family on that income."

A person can't do that on an $11- or $12-per-hour wage, he said. The Myrtle Beach employees also could earn commission on sales.

In Coeur d'Alene, new hires start at $14 per hour, and move up to $15 per hour after a year, and are paid more depending on education and experience.

Steven Crosby, senior vice president for Frontier, said the wage numbers cited by Moore and Legard sounded accurate.

"We're in a very, very, very competitive industry," he said. "This is a decision that's a delicate balance."

He said Frontier must do what's best for customers and shareholders, while being cost efficient to compete well with others in the telecommunications industry, and take care of employees.

"There's a lot of parts to this," he said. "It was a gut-wrenching decision."

The company in February reduced its annual dividend to shareholders to 40 cents annually from 75 cents, he said.

"We are continuing our effort to transform our company from a traditional phone company to a broadband company," he said.

The company has made significant capital expenditures expanding broadband and replacing aging infrastructure, he said.

Legard said many of the employees at the Coeur d'Alene call center are disappointed to see the company turn its back on them, particularly after employees there completed a conversion from a Verizon Wireless operating system to a Frontier system and saved the company $84 million.

The call center, at 7400 Mineral Drive, was operated by GTE Corp. and Verizon prior to Frontier's control. Frontier has leased the space.

Legard said the only "thank you" employees received for their work on the system conversion was a pink slip and a cheap, plastic travel mug.

Still, she said, they plan to remain loyal until the end, doing everything they can for the company.

"We feel like we're going to walk out of there with our heads held high," she said.

She has been working at the center for more than a dozen years, starting with GTE. Like her, she said, her coworkers have a lot of valuable skills and experience.

"We have stepped up every time they've asked," she said of Frontier. "I think they are looking very short term."

Moore added, "We'd like to see the company change its mind."

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