On Thursday, February 17, 2005, the Agency briefed Levi Morrow, the Chief Negotiator and I on the Call Center. We had been asking for a description of how it would work and interface with EEOC offices for months, and finally, out of the organic material, we learned more organic details.
The Call Center will have a “pre-pilot” in the San Francisco, Charlotte, and Dallas offices. This pre-pilot will run from February 21 to March 20, 2005. EEOC required that employees in those offices review a 13 minute tape about the call center. No, EEOC did not provide the Union with a copy, but some who have seen it describe it as pretty useless. On February 21, 2005, a federal holiday, when call center employees must work, mangers and supervisors will test the system. On Tuesday, February 22, 2005, the call center workers will answer calls to the 800 number for the test offices. On March 21, 2005, the 800 number system will roll over nationwide. The call center will answer all calls to the 800 number.
EEOC claims that the script used by the call center worker is fewer than 50 pages. The workers received 10 days of training; only seven of the days were on laws enforced by EEOC. Allegedly, at the end of each day, workers were tested and no one washed out or flunked. The call center will open with only about seven operators, but up to 36 will be available starting in March. Thirty six employees at a cost of $4.9 million would pay for a lot to training and improved technology in our offices, not to mention permanent staff. That amount of money might also prevent EEOC from forcing older experienced workers out the door to save money, as is currently happening.
Management claims that callers will have access to local offices and these calls will not be transferred to the call center. EEOC admits however, that it is pushing callers and visitors to the office to use the call center. EEOC is changing the voice mail system in all of its field offices to tell callers that if they want to talk to someone right away they should call the 800 number. In addition to changing the voice mail messages, the agency printed up flyers and notices that will be placed in EEOC offices and meeting rooms. These flyers and notices notify the public of the 800 number and the website. The campaign asserts that there is extended service at the call center and 24 hour service on the website. In addition, EEOC is changing the website to provide information on using the call center. Allegedly, the website will link users to local office information. But, the local office information will refer people to the website.
You and your work will be subject to impact from this boondoggle because you will have to deal with calls and information such as mail inquiries (the Form 83 inquiries) transferred from the call center. If the caller is at the jurisdictional time, is from the media or a Congressional staffer, the call must be transferred to an office via the office’s hotline. This hot line must be manned by managers and supervisors only, although some offices designated the Directors secretary. This line must be answered at all times the office is open. Three types of calls only, will come into the hotline. Of course, other than preventing employees from speaking with the press or Congress, the calls concerning jurisdictional time limits will be transferred to employees to handle. If other types of calls are being transferred to employees, the employee should notify both the Local President and the Council if this is occurring. You may want to ask the caller if they called the office directly or if the caller was transferred to the call center before reaching you. Again, let the Council know what is happening with these calls.
About mail from the call center. Call center staff will walk callers through what essentially is the Form 83, by reading the questions to the callers and capturing the answers. Then, these documents will be forwarded to a safe electronic archive. Your office will be notified that there is pending mail. There is a requirement that these documents be retrieved within 24 hours or the office will get an e-mail notice concerning waiting e-mail. Moreover, the offices must check the archive system every four hours. When asked how an office is to process these, there was no real answer. Anyone with IMS write access may access this archive. This is an area of impact the Council is dealing with and we will keep you posted.
A major problem with the call center is that we are sending a message to people that they will get better service than calling the office directly, waiting in the office or than those who have charges pending in the office. For example, people who use the call center to fill out the Form 83 will be told that they should hear from an office in two weeks. The caller is provided the local office number for follow-up. But that means that there will be no more 800 number service for people needing to check the status of their cases with or talk to the Investigator, since these are not the types of calls that are to be transferred to the offices. And other than being told that we have one worker who can design and one worker who can cook, we do not know much about the EEO skills of the call center staff.
Another problem raised by the call center information is that EEOC is transferring work to the call center, previously performed by EEOC employees, but without competition, in violation of the A-76 contracting out rules. Moreover, when EEOC intends to push additional work performed in-house, such as interviewing witnesses and responding to FOIA requests to the call center, there will be no need for EEOC and workers will have no protections in the employment discrimination arena.
When asked if employees could have a copy of the scripts and protocols used by the call center, it was like pulling teeth. Management finally conceded that it would be useful for employees at EEOC to know what call center workers tell the callers. In an effort to prevent providing the material, EEOC alleges that the protocols and scripts are only available in Word, because that is the protocol used by the call center. Although I have been using Word for the past several years and advised them of that in requesting copies of the scripts, I probably will not get a copy any time soon. The Council will continue to fight to get this document released to the bargaining unit.
The call center will randomly record calls. We will be able to request reports about the number of calls answered, the nature of the calls and the action taken or referral made.
Although EEOC still claims that call center staff are not trying to get callers off the phone quickly, it has strict performance limits in the contract. Calls are to be answered in a short period of time. It is not clear whether the phone continues to ring until someone answers, but this is presumed to be the case. With few workers and lots of calls, in order to meet the metrics, and with dollars at stake for the contractor, we can only imagine how short the calls will be. After all, nothing prevents call center staff from simply referring callers to computer aided systems so that the time does not count against contract dollars.
When asked whether a caller would be notified how to make a complaint, EEOC said that there is something called a trouble ticket that would allow callers to complain about EEOC employees, if that was what the caller wanted. The trouble ticket is an a-mail notice either to the local office, if the complaint involves an EEOC employee or to Cynthia Pierre if the complaint involves a Director. When again asked how callers would know the complaint process for call center employees, EEOC said merely that the caller could ask for the supervisor, but apparently, there is no formal mechanism for these complaints.
For employees, we ask that you notify your Local President or the Council of any and all problems occurring in your office as this new system goes into place. It is a work in progress that will lead only to a mess. We will keep you posted.