Maine's largest daily-newspaper group has outsourced its circulation customer-service work to Honduras, letting five Maine-based employees go, reassigning another, and allowing one to retire early.
The workers, some of whom were part-time, were paid at rates that for full-time workers were between $445 and $542 per week, depending on their seniority, according to Kathy Munroe, administrative officer for the Portland Newspaper Guild, the union that represents most of the paper's non-management employees.
A call to the circulation number posted on the websites of MaineToday Media, the corporate owner of the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Morning Sentinel, and Kennebec Journal newspapers reached a customer-service representative who confirmed he was in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. He was very cordial, even spelling the city's name for me. Another rep there told me there are 14 people there who cover around-the-clock hours solely waiting for calls from MaineToday clients. When asked about his hours and wages, he referred questions to the MaineToday human-resources department in Portland, which referred questions to owner/editor/publisher Richard Connor. Through his assistant, Connor declined to comment.
San Pedro Sula has several call centers, which appear to be based in its high-tech Altia Business Park, where online marketing materials boast about large numbers of English speakers (including numerous English-language schools) as well as high-reliability phone and Internet connectivity to the United States.
The move follows a consolidation within the MaineToday papers that shifted all circulation handling to South Portland, from locations in Augusta and Waterville. Though there have been other intra-company consolidations and transfers, this is the first outsourcing at the company that Munroe is aware of. "I take it personally when I hear about outsourcing," Munroe says. "We're hurting for jobs right here."
She says the company followed the provisions of the union contract, so there will not be a grievance from her organization related to the outsourcing, but "I'm hoping that there's a clamoring from subscribers."