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American Call Center Workers Rally for Their Filipino Counterparts

Under Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, labour unions in the Philippines have experienced arrests and brutal backlash for speaking out against the repression of labour activists as well as poor working conditions. Home to more call center workers than any other nation, the Philippines has for years subjected these workers to low pay and frequent misuse of contract labour.While American call center jobs are offshored to the labour-hostile Philippines, some American call center workers are publicly supporting Filipino workers’ right to organize.

Just last year, the International Trade Union Confederation listed the Philippines as one of the ten worst countries in the world for working people, writing that “in a context of extreme state violence and suppression of civil liberties, workers and trade unionists in the Philippines faced threats and intimidation.” On the southern island of Mindanao, the Duterte regime has extended martial law until at least the end of the year, putting thousands of people at risk of repression.

“Even though we are fighting against having American companies offshore call centers,” says Roland Anderson, AT&T worker and vice president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 9410 in San Francisco, “we still have to stand in support and solidarity with folks wherever they may be who want to utilize their right to organize.”

That includes workers like Sarah Prestoza in the Philippines. When the working conditions at her call center began to deteriorate, Prestoza and her co-workers began to organize. Alorica, Prestoza’s U.S.-based employer, which mostly services U.S. callers, refused to acknowledge wrongdoing, so the workers started a union. They wrote letters. They campaigned. Soon, Prestoza became union president. The company tried to cancel the union’s registration more than once, but was barred by the Filipino Department of Labour and Employment. And then, Prestoza, along with the rest of the union leadership, was fired. They were also arrested after holding a demonstration against Alorica.

Some call center workers in the Philippines have long been organizing for better pay and conditions. Their union, the Unified Employees of Alorica (UEA), is the first to come out of the Filipino business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, a sector that contracts out services, like call center support, to third-party providers. The UEA began at one major call center near Manila in 2015, at a company—Alorica—that is based in Irvine, California. Alorica workers serve multiple multinational corporations, including AT&T. Like many multinational corporations, AT&T pinches pennies by moving work overseas. CWA alleges that AT&T has eliminated approximately 23,000 jobs based in the U.S. since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, offshoring many of them.

In response to Alorica’s actions, CWA is strengthening its ties with the workers in the Philippines—and using its ties with AT&T to pressure the company for doing business with Alorica. CWA members—AT&T workers— rallied last month in front of an AT&T flagship store in San Francisco and another store in Los Angeles to pressure the company regarding its contract with Alorica. As a major Alorica client, AT&T could sway the company to end its union-busting.

“We believe that organization of labour is a human right,” says Anderson, who spoke at the San Francisco rally. “We’re not looking at borders,” he says, “we’re looking at fellow members of the workforce who are being persecuted for trying to organize.” The treatment of UEA members, including receiving death threats, reminds Anderson of “the origins of the American labour movement when people literally died on the picket lines.”

Photo by Global Filinvestor


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