By Jamison Cocklin
Verizon Wireless on Monday told 381 employees working at its Youngstown call center that the facility would close by March 2014.
They have the option to relocate or apply for different positions within the company across Ohio or out of state.
The process will begin Aug. 31 when 65 marketing continuity positions will be eliminated at the call center, located behind Verizon’s retail outlet at 475 Boardman-Canfield Road near the Honda Store and Giant Eagle.
The marketing employees work with high-risk customers who want to cancel their mobile-phone accounts. The retail store on Boardman-Canfield Road also will close as the company looks to consolidate its sales and customer-service operations in the area, where Verizon has nearly 30 locations for customers to buy phones or meet with sales associates.
Eleven employees at the retail store will have the option to merge with the Verizon outlet just up the street at 650 Boardman-Poland Road, which will remain open.
“Verizon Wireless is reorganizing its customer-service operations to make better use of our real-estate portfolio and consolidate our customer service,” said company spokeswoman Laura Merritt. “Honestly, it’s something we always have to take a look at; how we can be more efficient, and how we can better serve our customers because things change and we have to make sure we’re flexible in rolling with those changes.”
In addition to the 65 marketing positions and the 11 retail positions, an additional 285 employees working in customer financial service and about 20 employees working in different positions at the call center will be affected.
Verizon will offer relocation packages of up to $10,000 after taxes for those who choose to transfer to a different location. Verizon operates other call centers throughout Ohio in Dublin, Hilliard, Twinsburg and Cincinnati as well as western Pennsylvania. The company also has retail locations throughout the state.
Merritt acknowledged, however, that some employees who want to stay in their current positions could have to move out of state where positions are available in Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Though she didn’t have specifics, Merritt added that a majority of the employees will be eligible for a transfer.
One employee, who wished not to be named because he has not decided if he will stay with Verizon, said employees were notified by email Monday to log off their telephone systems at 2:30 p.m. and gather in a conference room for a meeting.
The news, the employee said, came as a surprise, describing it as “a kick in the behind.” He summed up the mood in the office as morose after the announcement was made. The employee said some of his colleagues are “understandably confused” about what to do next because many of them have lived, worked and raised families in the Youngstown area their entire lives.
The employee said the job paid well and added that it was a good place to work.
For those who choose not to relocate and leave Verizon, the company is offering a severance package, Merritt said.
According to the employee, staffers will receive two weeks of pay for each year of employment, in addition to 66 percent of their annual short-term incentive bonus — something similar to profit sharing. Based on that payout, someone who has been at the company for about five years would receive an additional $7,500.
In February, Verizon announced that it would consolidate its operations in the Columbus area by moving 1,500 workers there to a larger facility in nearby Hilliard.
In March 2012, the company announced that 3,175 workers in Washington, Texas and Michigan would be affected by similar moves after Verizon announced it would close or consolidate its operations at several call centers in the U.S.
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile serve nearly 90 percent of American mobile users, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In recent years, the industry has become extremely competitive and capital intensive as companies look to grow their customer base and expand network coverage and speed.
Last year, Verizon employed about 183,400 people worldwide, with 170,162 employees working in the U.S.