News

Waste Management closing call center

More than 120 employees will lose their jobs when the Waste Management call center closes its doors in September.

“I’m so sorry for Oak Harbor,” said Jamie Wilson, who worked for Waste Management for three years before taking another job two months ago. “When I first started, that was the job to have.”

While the closure came as a shock to employees, the company has done “belt-tightening” in recent years, which may have foreshadowed things to come.

CALL CENTER staff was informed during a meeting Wednesday morning that their jobs will be absorbed by the company’s Phoenix, Ariz., office. Some of the customer service functions will also be farmed out to West Corporation, a long-time partner of Waste Management.

Current employees were asked not to speak the media, according to a Waste Management representative.

“WE WERE all so surprised,” said Wilson. “Nobody saw this coming.”

Still, Wilson said there were signs that the company was struggling, including cuts in bonuses and elimination of positions.

Over the course of three years, Wilson said she received one raise.

“More was asked of you and the management was not supporting the staff, that’s for sure,” Wilson said.

Despite frustration of the staff, Wilson said Waste Management still offers good jobs with great benefits.

Wilson said the recession that began in 2009 may have had an effect on the company’s operations.

“When the economy hit, it all became about numbers, numbers, numbers,” she said.

IT’S BEEN a “tough few years” due to fluctuations in recycling markets, according to Waste Management’s Washington spokeswoman Robin Freedman.

“When that happens, there’s going to be changes,” she said.

While Freedman said she won’t comment on any specific cuts made at the Oak Harbor call center, as a company, she said, “we have had some belt tightening.”

“As a company, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our stakeholders, we’re very concerned about our budgets.”

THE CENTER in Oak Harbor is one of a handful of smaller call centers nationwide that were closed by Waste Management in favor of consolidating into larger facilities, Freedman said.

The services of the Oak Harbor office will be absorbed into the company’s Phoenix, Ariz., office, which currently employs more than 500 people, Freedman said.

Oak Harbor employees will be free to apply for other positions with Waste Management nationwide, and will be offered severance packages, retention bonuses and work training and placement services where applicable.

In addition to the closing call center, Waste Management operates 11 collection districts, six transfer stations, seven recycling centers and two landfills in Washington state.

OAK HARBOR Mayor Scott Dudley said he immediately reached out to Waste Management after hearing rumors about the layoffs, but the deal is done, he said.

“We’re scrambling to see what we can do to find a great employer like Waste Management to come in and fill their shoes,” Dudley said.

“I don’t fault them. It’s a corporate decision, but it’s still a blow to our economic situation here in Oak Harbor.”

The positions at the call center were “much needed jobs” in the community, he said.

It’s disappointing, Dudley said.

The company reported in April that $30,363 was the average Waste Management salary in Oak Harbor, according to Ron Nelson, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council.

With a loss of 126 jobs, the annual economic loss in salaries flowing into the Oak Harbor economy totals approximately $3.8 million.

As of January, Waste Management was Island County’s third largest private employer, behind The Boeing Co. and Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, Nelson said.

“Needless to say, it’s not a positive thing,” Nelson said. “That’s a pretty significant loss.”

THE NEXT step for the EDC will likely be notifying the U.S. Department of Commerce, which communicates with large corporations that are seeking relocation spaces, Nelson said.

“It’s always tough,” Nelson said.

“You’re competing across the nation.”

Upon hearing about Waste Management’s elimination of its call center in Oak Harbor, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson described the job losses as a “disaster.”

JOHNSON, WHO represents Oak Harbor as a commissioner, was serving as the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce executive director when Waste Management moved to the city in 2008.

“The loss of 126 jobs in our community is concerning,” Johnson said.

“It’s not easy for us to make up those employment opportunities.”

However, Johnson said, the city now has information it can use to encourage similar businesses to find a home in Oak Harbor.

“On the plus side, what we now know is that this type of employer works well in Oak Harbor,” Johnson said.

“We just need to go out and find someone who wants to do business here.

“We need to continue to look for ways to diversify our economy and attract employers just like this one.”

Whidbey News-Times Co-Editor Jessie Stensland contributed to this report.

 

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Jul 19 edition online now. Browse the archives.