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Unions push bill to end incentives for companies that send jobs overseas

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A bill that would penalize companies that ship New Jersey call-center jobs overseas is expected to go before the state Senate's Economic Growth Committee on Thursday, having passed the Assembly in March.

The "Save New Jersey Call Center Jobs Act" would require companies that employ more than 50 call-center employees in the Garden State to give the state 120 days' notice if they plan to transfer more than 30 percent of their call-center jobs overseas. Upon doing so, those companies would become ineligible for state grants, loans or other financial incentives for a period of three years.

Bob Master, legislative and political director for the Communications Workers of America District One, said it's not fair for the state to give incentives to companies that take away good-paying jobs.

"If companies want to send good call-center jobs overseas, that's their business," Master said. "They just shouldn't be entitled to get taxpayer subsidies and tax breaks to make it easier to do that."

Master's union has joined with other unions and other community groups to form the No Tax Breaks for Offshoring Jobs Coalition.

Master said the CWA represents the bulk of Verizon's call-center workers in New Jersey. According to the CWA, the union's membership of Verizon call-center workers has shrunk from 3,700 jobs a decade ago to just over 1,300 workers.

Meanwhile, according to the coalition, Verizon has taken in more than $113 million in subsidies since 1998.

Master said much of those job losses have come because Verizon contracted the work out to domestic, nonunion workers, though he said some of the work was shipped overseas. He said he doesn't know whether the number of jobs sent overseas would be high enough to trigger the penalties included in the bill.

In an e-mail, Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said the company wouldn't respond point-by-point to figures put out by the unions, though he said generally that the unions have made "erroneous" claims about the company. He noted that Verizon and the CWA are still in the midst of heated contract negotiations.

"The CWA, which is part of this coalition, is using this anti-growth bill as a veil for its contract negotiations with Verizon," Gierczysnski said. "It is unfortunate that this coalition is using this bill to recycle stale, misleading allegations about Verizon."

Gierczynski said having call centers in multiple locations is good for customers, and blamed job losses on the shrinking landline business brought about by new mobile technologies. He also said the company abides by its union contracts when contracting out work.

Gierczynski said despite any jobs shifts, Verizon has contributed billions to the U.S. economy, including $11.1 billion in tax payments and nearly $50 billion in infrastructure improvements.

"This has created and sustained great U.S. jobs — both in and outside of Verizon — as the company has deployed innovative broadband technologies nationwide," he said.

Master said he knows opponents of the bill will say it's anti-business, but he said Gov. Chris Christie's strategy of using incentives and streamlining regulations to make the state more business friendly isn't working. He pointed to a Commerce Department report out last week that ranked the Garden State 47th in gross domestic product growth last year.

Rather than sending an anti-business message, Master said the bill's real message is that New Jersey supports American jobs.

"We're standing up for New Jersey jobs and American jobs, and we're concerned about keeping those jobs in the country," he said.

Master said he's "pretty confident" the bill will clear the Legislature and end up on Christie's desk. If that happens, Master said he hopes public support will persuade Christie to sign the bill.

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