National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216,
Office of the President
c/o Denver District Office, EEOC
303 East 17th Avenue, Suite
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 21, 2005Contact: Gabrielle Martin (303) 725-9079 Rachel Shonfield (305) 496-7939
EEOC’S OUTSOURCED CALL CENTER BOONDOGGLE BEGINS TODAY
The National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE/AFL-CIO, the Union which represents employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, denounces today’s launch of a privatized call center as an oppressive day in the history of the 40 year old civil rights agency. “The people who dreamed of the passage of a Civil Rights Act did not dream of this,” according to Gabrielle Martin, President of the National Council of EEOC Locals. Martin goes on to ask, “Can you imagine hundreds of thousands of people marching on the National Mall, were hoping that one day there might be a telemarketer staring at a script that they could call if they were ever discriminated against?” Or, “Can you imagine that Dr. King sat in jail thinking that “Freedom” would ring from the phone scripts of ill trained and ill equipped temporary employees?”
According to Martin, “EEOC’s new 1-800 National Call Center, encourages people to give up their rights to work in discrimination free workplaces, and instead just spend a few minutes talking to the voice on the line. In order to protect these important civil rights and to obtain skilled counseling and responses, the public should visit or call the nearest local EEOC office. Martin questions how much of the discrimination about which callers are complaining, is occurring in Lawrence, Kansas.
The EEOC’s Union, and many civil rights organizations and members of Congress have concerns that the National Call Center will erode customer service for victims of discrimination. Instead of hundreds of experienced Federal investigators responding to the public from local offices, now 36 contract operators in Lawrence Kansas will take over this function. Martin believes that “When poorly trained operators give misinformation or frustrate callers by parroting back scripts, the public will lose their statutory right to bring a charge of discrimination.” These operators will receive only 7 days of training in the laws that EEOC enforces. “While Dorothy and Toto were interested in going back to the simple pleasures of their home in Kansas, for most, suffering the ravages of employment discrimination requires more than manipulations behind a phone line."
The National Council is trying to get the word out to the public that they still have the right to and should call their local EEOC office directly. As for individuals told to contact the call center for faster service, “Just say “NO” to the Call Center.” “Would you rather wait to speak to a doctor if you had a health concern, or be connected directly to someone with no health care experience who reads you a script?” The Union also recommends that the public visit the Council’s website at www.council216.org, and click “contact us,” to email any concerns about the call center. Martin thinks genuine feedback is very important, “You can be sure that at the end of the pilot, the agency will be passing on only glowing accounts of the call center, when they ask for the money to make it permanent. The Union will ensure that Congress and the people get the full story.”
Martin states that the EEOC’s upper administration with its single-minded obsession with paying millions to outsource questions from the public to a call center, has demonstrated total disregard for the future of the agency and civil rights. The two year pilot has a $4.9 million price tag. At the same time, EEOC’s budget for FY ‘05 projects a $6 million shortfall. The agency has lost 500 employees to a hiring freeze and 50% of the staff is eligible for retirement.
The agency conducted a one month “prepilot” of three offices. The Union has carefully tracked the results in Dallas, one of prepilot offices. “The Union found that there is no discernable difference in the number of phone calls coming into Dallas. This defeats Chair Dominguez’s claimed rationale for paying for the call center.” In addition, we already know that the test pilot during the past month generated “Do Overs. A “Do Over” occurs when individuals contacted the call center, the call center employee took down incomplete or inadequate information and sent it to an EEOC office. There, EEOC employees were required to “Do Over” the work. “Do Overs” merely create more work for the EEOC employees and exemplify the shortsighted approach EEOC is taking to a severe staffing problem. In fact, the Union has reason to believe that ultimately, staff will expend even more time in dealing with transfers and emails from the call center. The amount of time will exponentially increase in May when a poorly thought out internet self-filing system begins in May. Martin questions whether this emphasis on routing all calls and intake work to the call center contradicts Chair Dominguez’s guarantees to Congress that the public still will be able to come into local offices for service. As we await the three year old decision on what will happen with restructuring, it is clear that the call center is paving the direction.
By all accounts, the privatized call center is only the first step in a larger plan that EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez has to restructure the agency. When the EEOC finally announces its restructuring plans in the next few months, all arrows point to closing EEOC offices. At that point, Martin predicts that Chair Dominguez will claim the EEOC has no other choice but to downsize, even though she created this self-fulfilling prophecy, by prioritizing the call center over the rights of America’s workers and the interests of the agency she heads.