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About Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current | View Entire Issue (July 21, 2006)
Qwest to close Portland call center, 160 CWA jobs will vanish
Qwest Communications Interna-
tional has announced it will close its
Portland customer service call center
Oct. 13 and lay off 175 employees, in-
cluding 160 members of Communica-
tions Workers of America Local 7901.
The work will be shifted to Qwest
call centers in Sioux City, Iowa; Sioux
Falls, South Dakota, and Logan, Utah.
The announcement comes two years
after another Qwest closure threat, in re-
sponse to which state and local officials
offered taxpayer-funded incentives to
get Qwest to keep the center open.
In 2004, the State of Oregon offered
to partner with the City of Portland and
pay up to $3,000 per employee for
training, and the Portland Development
Commission (PDC) made up to
$750,000 available to pay for new
equipment and improvements to
Qwest’s downtown Portland facility.
Qwest kept the call center, but de-
cided not to take the subsidies, because
they came with strings attached, like a
requirement that the jobs pay a certain
level and stay put a certain length of
time. If the company took the PDC sub-
sidy and later closed the center, it would
have to repay it, with interest.
The union, also, made concessions
two years ago. To compete with low-
wage non-union call center contractors,
CWA agreed to a two-tier wage system.
New hires would start at $8.50 an hour,
bump to $10 after a probationary pe-
riod, and make up to $12 depending on
sales. The most senior employees
would continue to make $20 an hour.
The hope was that lower wages
would bring back work that had been
subcontracted. The reality, says Local
7901 President Madelyn Elder, is that
in places like Portland it wasn’t possible
to find good workers at that wage.
Qwest said workers will have an op-
portunity to transfer to the other centers.
“If you want a $10-an-hour job in
Housing costs rise in Oregon as wages stagnant
By MICHAEL WILSON
While housing costs have risen rap-
idly in recent years, wages have risen
much more slowly.
In 2005, the average wage per pri-
vate-sector job in Oregon was $36,214
— about 11 percent higher than in 2000.
As the table to the right shows, house
prices rose 56 percent over that period.
While many Oregon counties have
higher median home prices than the
United States, few have higher wages. In
2004, only two of Oregon’s 36 counties
— Multnomah and Washington — had
higher average wages per job than the
nation. The table to the left shows the
2005 median house selling price and av-
erage annual wage per job for the United
States and four areas in Oregon. The
table includes the ratio of the median
house price to the average annual wage
per job in the private sector. This gives a
rough idea of how affordable the median
house is for the average worker.
Curry County has the second-highest
median home price out of the five areas
listed, and the lowest average wage.
Curry County residents making the
average wage would need to pay more
than 11 times their annual income to pur-
chase the median-valued
home. In the United
States, that number is a
little more than five
times the nation’s annual
(Editor’s Note: This
is an excerpt of an arti-
cle in Oregon Labor
Trends, written by
Michael Wilson, a work-
force analyst for the Ore-
gon Employment De-
Sioux City, you can follow your job,”
There may be some cases in which
Qwest’s Portland workers would actu-
ally consider doing that, Elder said, like
if they’re two years away from retire-
ment and need the intact employment
history to get full benefits.
Elder said the union hopes to per-
suade Qwest management to recon-
It also planned to demonstrate its
anger at the closure at a noon rally July
21 outside the call center, at 421 SW
Oak St. in Portland.
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JULY 21, 2006
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