Call center organizing in adversity
Emerging research on trade unions in UK call centers has concentrated on developments in the unionized financial sector (Bain and Taylor 2001a, 2002, Taylor and Bain 2001a) and collectivization across unionized and non-unionized call centers (Gall et al. 2001). Published studies explicitly engaging with union organizing campaigns have been limited to the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) campaign at TypeTalk (Heery et al. 2000a). This case study aims to contribute to our knowledge by analyzing the experience of workplace organizing at an outsourced telecommunications call center, Excell Multimedia, in Glasgow. Excell qualifies as a significant case study not simply because, in circumstances of extreme employer hostility, a union-free environment was transformed into a workplace with a substantial CWU membership. Widespread media coverage and public interest not only reflected events but helped frame them, influencing intermittent episodes of worker-management conflict, which culminated in the dismissal of two leading activists in February 2000. Media exposure (e.g. Channel 4 News, 14 December 1999, Guardian, 9 September 2000, Independent, 9 February 2000, Mirror, 21 July 2000) of Excell’s working practices, their treatment of the workforce, and, particularly, allegations of malpractice in relation to customer service, provided a sporadic and high-profile backdrop to the unionization campaign. Concerns regarding conditions at Excell also prompted political intervention in both the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster (Hansard, 2 December 1998) and attracted the close attention of the trade union movement. Ultimately, these sackings further damaged the company’s reputation, contributing to a decision by Excell’s main client to terminate their contract and replace Excell with an alternative outsourcer, Vertex.