Obama, Unions Work to Bring Back Overseas Jobs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( MainStreet) -- An effort to bring jobs back from overseas to the U.S. is gaining steam, helped by a receptive president, a growing economy and a labor movement that has seized on it.

In recent months, unions in the auto and airline industries, typically working closely with employers, have brought back or agreed to bring back thousands of jobs from overseas to the U.S. in auto manufacturing, airline call centers and other fields.
In recent months, unions, typically working with employers, have brought back or agreed to bring back thousands of jobs from overseas to the U.S. in auto manufacturing, airline call centers and other fields.

US Airways ( LCC) has been among the leaders, bringing back 400 reservation agents' jobs from Manila to Winston-Salem, N.C.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Reno, Nev.; during the past year.

Earlier, in 2006, the carrier brought back 600 reservations jobs from Manila, Mexico City and San Salvador to the U.S. The carrier's reservations work is now done by about 1,900 agents at the three U.S. centers, who start at about $10 an hour and can earn $21 an hour, or about $44,000 annually, after a dozen years. US Airways still handles international calls in Liverpool, England.

The jobs were taken offshore in a cost-savings move during the carrier's 2004 bankruptcy, but a contract agreement with the Communications Workers of America specified that they would be returned. At one time, about 70% of reservations agents worked outside the U.S.

"It's still an uphill effort, especially in the unorganized call center industry," CWA spokeswoman Candace Johnson says. "It shows the benefit of being able to bargain with employers to bring jobs back. That's the way we see jobs coming back, because employers are not doing it on their own."

Still, in some cases, employers have embraced the effort. "Americans prefer to talk to someone in a U.S.-based call center," says Kerry Hester, US Airways' senior vice president for operations planning and support. "We have higher customer satisfaction."

"We worked cooperatively with the CWA and designed state of the art technology processes to help them to excel so we could do the work onshore," Hester said.

In the auto industry, contracts signed last year should create about 20,000 jobs at Ford ( F), GM ( GM) and Chrysler, with some coming from overseas.

At Ford, for instance, "As the nation's economy remains stalled and uncertain and its employment rate stagnates, we were able to win an agreement with Ford that will bring auto manufacturing jobs back to the United States from China, Mexico and Japan," UAW president Bob King said in October. Ford will bring primary production of the 2013 Fusion to Flat Rock, Mich.; the Fusion had been built in Mexico.

At GM, the new contract called for creation of 6,400 jobs at U.S. plants, with some work moved to the U.S. from Mexico.

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