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November 14, 2013

City to lose 125 jobs as AT&T center closes

NEW CASTLE — New Castle will lose 125 jobs when the AT&T Relay Center closes in the next 12 to 15 months.

Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo Wednesday confirmed he had been contacted late last month by an AT&T official who had notified him of the pending closing of the center at Cascade Galleria.

“He said AT&T had made a corporate decision to eliminate some services in areas where they felt they had enough coverage,” Mastrangelo said.

The local relay center processes TTY/TDD numbers, which are associated with text telephone calls for hearing impaired customers. This service is being scaled back, the mayor said he had been told.

“I was told 125 employees would lose their jobs here in the next 12 to 15 months,” Mastrangelo said. “I don’t know if the local people will lose their jobs or have the option to be transferred.”

The relay center in Cascade Galleria opened in 1997 with 200 employees.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Jim Penna, director of external affairs for AT&T in southwestern Pennsylvania, who broke the news to the mayor, were unsuccessful.

However, AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in an e-mail, “We have no plans at this time to close the center.”

The New Castle call center, he said, “currently provides Telecommunications Relay Services under contract to a handful of states and private businesses.

“Use of TRS has declined significantly over the past several years as alternative technologies, such as video relay services, smartphones, tablets, texting and apps, have become popular options for people who previously would have used TRS.

“As a result, AT&T will be exiting this business as our contracts expire beginning in 2014.”

Richter said AT&T will monitor and adjust staffing as the volume of business continues to decline and contracts expire beginning next year. Affected employees will have the opportunity to apply for other AT&T jobs.

He said AT&T continues to hire in growing areas of its business, including wireless, video, cloud services, sales and mobility applications. “In the first nine months of this year we hired more than 400 employees in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and we’re currently hiring about 100 more.”

Mary Lou Lane, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1944, who represents the 125 local AT&T workers, confirmed AT&T “is getting out of the relay business.”

But she added, “No one has said the New Castle call center is closing.”

Local workers, Lane said, provide go-between service for hearing and non-hearing people. They listen to what the hearing person has to say and type the information for the non-hearing customer. Then they read the non-hearing person’s reply to the hearing person.

“With advances in technology, more people have access to smart phones, computers and the Internet. There is less need for relay operators.”

Lane said she does not believe AT&T is pulling out of the relay business completely, but is winding down as contracts expire. Workers, she said, will have options, from educational opportunities to possible transfers to other job openings within the system.

“All of these things had been negotiated into contracts,” she said.

In a statement issued Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey announced he has introduced bipartisan legislation to protect jobs in call centers across Pennsylvania and the U.S.

Casey noted almost 200,000 Pennsylvanians work in call centers. Casey’s bill focuses on overseas call centers.

Casey called his legislation a common-sense bill that will protect middle class jobs in the U.S., protect consumers’ personal and financial information and provide customers a choice in speaking with a U.S. employee. His bill would end tax breaks that promote off shore out-sourcing.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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