Revenge of the unemployed
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Upset with the loss of U.S. jobs to India, Russia and beyond, a group of unemployed white-collar Atlantans vowed this week to target Georgia politicians, governments and businesses they deem responsible for sending jobs overseas.
Atlanta is behind the outsource outrage curve that has hit Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities stricken by huge white-collar job losses. But local organizers plan to meet Oct. 23 in Marietta to map out their anti-offshoring campaign.
One of their targets: the state of Georgia, which employs an outsourcing firm to handle calls from the state's food stamp recipients.
"Tax dollars should not be going outside the country," Glenn Jackson said. "We will be protesting and lobbying at the state level."
Jackson, 49, was a senior manager making a "mid-six-figure" salary with Siemens Energy and Automation in Alpharetta until he got laid off nearly two years ago. After a yearlong stint selling shoes at Rich's-Macy's, he is studying to become a grade school teacher.
He has also created the National Association for the Employment of Americans (www.naea.us) -- an Internet-based nonprofit that protests U.S. immigration and trade policies.
Nine million Americans, mostly blue-collar workers, remain unemployed. But Forrester Research predicts that an additional 3.3 million white-collar jobs in the United States will disappear by 2015.
Public opinion polls register what appears to be a rising wave of protests nationwide. Fifty-four percent of Americans say free trade isn't worth the massive amount of lost jobs it engenders, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll. Thirty-five percent say it is.
Politicians, warns U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.), ignore the anti-globalization, anti-trade fervor at their own peril. "This thing is so big [and] it shows the angst and the unemployment that's going on across the country," said Manzullo, who chairs the powerful House Small Business Committee.
Southern outsourcing began more than a decade ago with the exodus of blue-collar textile and apparel workers. The trend has accelerated, with nearly 300,000 of these jobs vanishing just since January 2001, according to executives who gathered recently to warn the Bush administration against taking their votes for granted.
Incumbents on notice
At news conferences in Spartanburg, S.C., and Greensboro, N.C., 80 textile officials recently demanded the White House limit Chinese imports. They also announced a voter registration drive for their employees.
"There is another election coming up, and the Republicans run the risk of losing the South because of the type of trade policies that have been put in place," said Roger Chastain, president of Mount Vernon Mills in Greenville, S.C.
Jackson and other white-collar newcomers to the unemployment line claim anti-offshoring Web sites can reach more than 100,000 angry Americans. Already, the sites have helped gather protesters in Texas, Connecticut, California and Washington.
Yet corporate America, under pressure from shareholders and Wall Street, accelerates the offshoring trend. Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove warned last week, for example, that the United States could lose the bulk of its information technology jobs to overseas competitors. Grove, according to The Wall Street Journal, said Intel "has no choice" but to continue sending work abroad due to cost and productivity pressures.
Experts say businesses can expect to save 20 percent to 50 percent in costs through offshoring but that the issue is much more complicated than portrayed by its opponents.
"There may be circumstances where companies are able to keep employment in the United States by moving certain kinds of jobs offshore," said Daryl Buffenstein, an Atlanta attorney and the general counsel for the business-backed Global Personnel Alliance. "It's a much more complex phenomenon than people give it credit for."
Marcus Courtney doesn't buy that argument. President of WashTech, a Seattle-based union formed in 1998 to organize high-tech workers, Courtney also scoffs at the notion that the next new thing -- biotechnology? nanotechnology? -- will create enough jobs to replace those lost. Unions, once anathema to high-paid workers, envision great gains from the outsourcing trend. WashTech, for example, has increased its electronic membership eightfold, to 16,000, since January.
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents 80,000 scientists and engineers, approved a resolution recently to fight the outsourcing of jobs.
Congress is listening. Bills have been introduced in the House to restrict offshoring, including one requiring any company winning a federal contract to keep half its work force in the United States.
Manzullo has introduced legislation tying income tax credits to the retention of jobs on U.S. soil. The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, is studying the impact of offshoring on the domestic job market
The anti-offshoring fight extends to state legislatures, too. Forty states, according to The Charlotte Observer, hire outsourcing firms to handle calls from welfare and food stamp recipients.
Georgia's Department of Human Resources pays Citicorp $8 million a year to manage phone inquiries from the state's 438,000 food stamp recipients. Citicorp outsources the work to an Indian call center that handles roughly 1.7 million calls annually from Georgians.
Tim Connell, director of the state's Office of Planning and Budget, says the deal saves money for Georgia taxpayers. The National Association for the Employment of Americans' Jackson says the savings aren't worth it.
"Tax dollars should not be going outside the country when Americans are unemployed," he said. "We'll be protesting and organizing some lobbying at the state level" to fight the outsourcing.
An uproar in New Jersey persuaded the Legislature there to cancel its contract with a company employing foreign phone clerks. Iowa and Florida have demanded that their food stamp queries be handled domestically. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley recently ordered a review of state contracts to determine what goes overseas.
Politicians are getting the message from pollsters such as John Zogby. He recently conducted an "anxiety factor" poll of 1,000 likely voters. One-fourth of those making more than $75,000 a year fear that they, or somebody in their home, will lose their job. That's nearly triple the number from 1999.
"Clearly, these white-collar voters are swing voters," said Zogby, president of Zogby International, an independent polling firm. "And we're talking here mainly about suburbanites."