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Archive for Thursday, July 29, 2004

Contract loss hinders call center’s growth

Affinitas offers 40 employees alternative jobs

July 29, 2004

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Growth plans for a Lawrence call center that recently announced plans to hire 100 employees have suffered a setback.

Officials with Affinitas confirmed Wednesday their company lost a major contract with RCN Corp., a cable, Internet and telephone company that in late May filed for bankruptcy protection.

The loss required the call center, which just moved to Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, to eliminate 40 positions that took service calls from RCN customers. But Omaha, Neb.-based Affinitas said it was offering all 40 employees a transfer to the center's outbound call department, which involves making sales calls to customers.

"Everybody will be given a chance to move over," said Declan Barr, vice president of operations. "But this is potentially a reduction in our work force because there are some people who will not choose to move over to outbound sales. Some people are just more comfortable doing the inbound work."

The company employs about 300 people in the Lawrence call center.

Barr said the company still planned to add 100 workers at its Lawrence operations as part of an expansion that included the call center moving from 1601 W. 23rd St. to vacant space at the Riverfront Plaza in the downtown area. The company completed the move Monday.

"Clearly our growth is still going to be there, but it will take a little longer than we anticipated," Barr said. "We anticipated losing some inbound work, but we didn't anticipate it being quite this big of a swing."

Company officials estimated the 100 new jobs -- most of which would pay a starting wage of $8.75 per hour plus benefits -- would be added within six months to a year. Barr said he now couldn't give an estimate on when the company would start hiring.

"Our business is like an airplane. We want to fill our seats with people, because that is how we make money," Barr said. "Our goal is still to fill them as quickly as we can. We have a much bigger facility now, so our plans are to continue to grow."

The company has 22,000 square feet of space, about double the size of its former offices on 23rd Street.

Several employees said the contract loss caught them by surprise.

"We just moved in and thought everything was great and nice, and then this happened," said Sherrie Taylor, a call center employee who was not affected by the loss.

Taylor said the company's remaining employees were nervous about future cutbacks, in part, because Affinitas still has several other contracts with the financially struggling RCN Corp.

Barr said no other cutbacks were planned.

"There is absolutely no plan for additional changes," Barr said. "It just impacted one group in the RCN team. Everything else is business as usual."

RCN Corp., based in Princeton, N.J., filed for bankruptcy protection May 27 to reorganize its $1.6 billion worth of debt. The company has built cable, Internet and telephone networks on the East and West Coasts and in the Chicago area.

Barr said the company pulled one of its contracts with Affinitas because call volume had dropped to the point that RCN could handle the calls at a company-owned center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

In addition to the RCN contracts, Barr said the company's Lawrence call center does work for about 10 other clients and was actively seeking new clients.

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