Tube City Almanac

November 10, 2009

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Tribune-Review, March 10, 2009:
Dish Network's McKeesport Customer Service Center is staying put, and that's a dash of good news for the job market in the Pittsburgh area. "We've signed a new lease, and we're hiring," said Robin Zimmerman, communications coordinator for the Colorado-based company, which has scheduled a job fair for Wednesday at its location in the Industrial Center of McKeesport industrial park.

Tribune-Review, Nov. 10, 2009:
Dish Network Corp.'s decision Tuesday to close its customer service center in McKeesport stunned local officials, who rely on the struggling city's second-largest employer to provide 600 paychecks.

Wow. If you can't trust paid corporate spokespersons for big, multi-national entertainment conglomerates, who can you trust?

As the Almanac speculated back in December, and as the rumor mill has predicted for more than a year, Colorado-based Dish Network is closing its call center in the city.

. . .

But there is some good news: A Dish Network flack says "this will not affect customers in any way." Whew!

Well, except for the Dish Network customers who are also Dish Network employees in McKeesport, who won't be able to afford paying for Dish Network service any more. It might affect them.

The announcement comes one day after Dish Network's board of directors reported adding 241,000 new subscribers and a $2 per share cash dividend. Hey, you got to keep those shareholders happy!

It also comes despite the fact that state and county taxpayers have subsidized Dish Network and its former owner, EchoStar, to the tune of $13 million over the past decade.

. . .

You know, it's just business, folks! C'mon! God bless the American free-market system!

And Dish Network has promised to help employees find other jobs. Presumably, they give you a map to the unemployment office, and a box to put your stuff in.

I hate to see anyone lose their job, and I also know that some Dish employees are faithful readers of the Almanac.

(They're the ones who first hipped us to the rumors that the company wanted to close the McKeesport call center. And since security guards were chasing reporters off of the property on Tuesday --- hey, didn't the taxpayers pay for that facility? --- we'd like to hear from anyone who wants to anonymously whisper into our ear.)

But this closing was, unfortunately, inevitable. Satellite TV is hurting. The satellite TV market --- where Dish and DirecTV continue to hammer each other's brains out --- is mature, and it faces new competition from broadband providers (like Verizon's FiOS service) that didn't exist when the McKeesport call center opened a decade ago.

Despite Dish Network's recent profits, its overall revenues are down.

. . .

Worse, call center jobs are vulnerable to outsourcing to overseas providers. Even if the McKeesport center had stayed open and another call center was closed this time, there was no guarantee that Dish won't eventually uproot the entire operation and send it to India in a year or two. (Gotta maximize that shareholder value, you know!)

And finally, although the loss of 600 jobs sounds terrible, in reality, Dish Network started employees at $9.50 per hour. That's about $20,000 per year.

The fact that the company was constantly recruiting new employees in McKeesport should tell you everything you need to know: You can't live on what Dish Network has been paying. Twenty grand a year, salary-wise, is Taco Bell and Wal-Mart territory.

It's also hard for me to see what other business benefit there's been to the city since EchoStar/Dish Network opened its McKeesport call center. A Subway franchise moved in across the Lysle Boulevard, along with a Pizza Hut express, and that seems to be about it.

. . .

Nor was anyone learning new skills by answering complaint calls for Dish Network. So let's all just get a grip. It's not like we're losing U.S. Steel again, or even the UPMC jobs in Braddock, which are skilled, well-paying jobs with a future --- unlike call-center jobs.

The challenge is not replacing the specific 600 jobs at the Dish Network facility, but in moving forward and attracting meaningful employment to the Mon Valley --- not just low-paying service industry work.

And a bigger challenge is to do it without subsidizing a company to the tune of $13 million. (Honestly, did we learn nothing from the Volkswagen debacle in New Stanton 20 years ago?)

Although if anyone wants to rip their Dish Network antennas off of their houses and mail 'em back to Englewood, Colo., postage due, I won't blame you.

. . .

Dish Network told people in March that their jobs were safe, and then a few months later folded up its tents. That's a disgusting, foul way of treating your employees.

Unfortunately, that's the way business has been conducted in the United States since the 1980s. As I've so often quoted the late, great John C. Mamajek: "Hooray for me, and to hell with you! I got mine!"

Dish Network's shareholders got theirs. Of course, they also got $13 million of ours, which is what really stings.

Your Comments are Welcome!

Was Echo Star granted ten-year tax abatements to get them to open here? If they were, then we probably had an inkling of how long they’d stay around.
George - November 11, 2009

Mamo was my history teacher too! He said that quote a lot in the early 80’s.
Frank Kurta - November 11, 2009


Yes, I believe they did. So did the entire Waterfront complex, if I’m not mistaken.
John - November 12, 2009

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