Call centers have emerged as the primary vehicle for firms to interact with consumers, transforming consumer service jobs - once characterized by variety and personal relationships - into routinized, high speed operations with continuous monitoring and minimal skill requirements. International competition and increased specialization of call centers has depressed the wages of employees and limited their prospects for upward mobility.
In previous research, Rosemary Batt of Cornell University analyzed call center jobs in the United States and found that institutions like unions that mediate labor markets have a strong influence on whether call centers create "good" or "bad" jobs. With new support from Russell Sage, Batt will survey call centers in a dozen different countries to examine how their unique institutional contexts - unions, works councils, training providers, employer associations, development agencies, and public regulatory bodies - have influenced the management strategies and the quality of jobs at call centers. She will administer surveys and conduct open-ended interviews at call centers in Canada, Australia, Sweden, Japan, India, Korea, and South Africa, as well as the European nations being studied in the Foundation's European Case Studies of Low Wage Work project. Batt will build an international database containing results from all participating countries and organize a conference to compare the evolution of call centers across countries. This research will examine how differing institutional settings and employment protections can impact labor practices in one industry.
Batt has made her research available at the Global Call Center Project.