Larry Thompson knew he was screwed before the customer had even stepped foot in the door. He'd have his employer to thank.
Thompson, an eight-year employee at AT&T, the nation's largest telecom company with more than 200,000 workers in the U.S., had a salty individual in front of him at the Highland Park store in St. Paul last weekend.
The location is one of 27 AT&T corporate-owned stores in Minnesota.
The patron had been sold a tablet over the phone by an AT&T rep working in the Philippines. The new gadget cost $1. It was part of their wireless plan, the consumer had been told.
What the overseas employee didn't mention was that the purchase came with a $10 per month charge for 24 months.
"So what happens is that representative makes money off selling this person a product that doesn't set the expectation for what the billing looks like," says Thompson, vice president of Communications Workers of America Local 7250. "That creates a negative experience for us in the store. So we're supposed to fix this mistake because the customer wasn't properly notified what their bill looks like, and all it does is create more frustration for the customer…."
Thompson, a retail salesperson, gets paid on commission. His pay includes bonuses when positive responses are registered on customer service surveys.
In the meantime, AT&T's monthly profits are about $1 billion. CEO Randall Stephenson was paid $28 million last year.
"We're seeing [examples of worsening customer service] this day after day," Thompson says. "It means frustration. It means inconsistency in what [an outsourced worker] is telling them.… So you have customers saying so and so told me over the phone this is not what I should expect and it's not the case."
AT&T last year shipped thousands of American call center jobs to the Philippines, according to Thompson. These workers field various kinds of calls from collections to wireless activations.The union estimates the company has nixed a total of 12,000 call-center positions stateside since 2011 while creating many such jobs overseas.
AT&T wants to export more, the 200 middle-class-paying jobs at its two locations in Bloomington included, Thompson alleges.
Outsourcing is but one of the reasons talks between AT&T and the union, which represents around 21,000 workers who have been without a contract since February, have stalled.
Others issues include the diversion of retail jobs to so-called third-party authorized retailers not owned by the company and not unionized, where wages and benefits are lower. Moreover, the union contends retail workers' take-home pay has tanked in the last year since AT&T changed its commission plan. At the same time, the company wants employees to pay more for health care plans that provide poorer coverage than ones from years past.
"When I first started here," says Thompson, "it was a place I was promised a steady paycheck. As long as I did my job it would be there. Now what it has come down to is AT&T is moving away from helping the worker or supporting their own workers and all about the bottom line."
Some 600 Minnesotans were among the tens of thousands of AT&T retail and call center workers in 36 states who participated in a weekend strike last month.
Thompson says that as the company continues to record windfall profits, "It wants to cut our throats and sell the retail sector [and call center jobs] to underpaid, under-skilled workers."
An AT&T spokesperson could not be reached for comment.