Comcast, one of the nation’s largest cable providers, will close its Morgan Hill call center as of Nov. 30, leaving hundreds of employees in limbo.
The company’s management staff announced the upcoming closure to about 300 employees of the sales call center Tuesday morning at a closed-door meeting at Morgan Hill’s Community and Cultural Center.
Employees filed out of the meeting room around 10:30 a.m. – some with despondent looks on their faces as others were crying and being consoled with a hug or hand on their shoulder. Many, however, saw the writing on the wall.
In April, Comcast cut 200 jobs in its Northern California division, many of which came from the Morgan Hill location.
But the city’s chief of economic development initiatives said the closure is a “surprise,” as earlier communications with Comcast led her to believe they were doing significant layoffs but retaining a core group of employees in Morgan Hill.
“I would imagine that folks that live near Morgan Hill and work for Comcast will find the market to still be pretty tight. With unemployment as high as it is, the loss of any job is more than disappointing,” said Leslie Little, Morgan Hill assistant city manager for economic development.
Employees mingling outside the community center said they too were assured by supervisors in recent months that they have nothing to fear, and some faulted the company for poor communication with employees.
“This has been their pattern,” said Mike Cortez, 38, a Morgan Hill resident and employee of the call center since 2004. “They reduce people in the call center, and that way when they close it, it doesn’t look like a giant hit.”
Cortez and other employees leaving the meeting, most of whom declined to give their name, said they have been frustrated by a lack of communication from Comcast management. When employees have asked management about the call center’s future in recent months, they have been told everything is OK, Cortez said.
Managers at Tuesday’s meeting did not allow the employees to ask questions in front of the crowd, Cortez added.
“It’s better if you tell your employees what’s going to happen. They told us the opposite when we asked,” he said.
The closure of the Morgan Hill call center is part of a wider effort by Comcast to move about 1,000 jobs in Northern California into similar centers in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, according to Andrew Johnson, regional vice president of Comcast California.
Comcast call centers in Sacramento and Livermore will also close as part of the consolidation, and the company held similar meetings for employees in those cities Tuesday as well, Johnson said. Calls to the three centers will be rerouted to the call centers in other states.
“We determined that the high cost of doing business in California makes it difficult to run cost-effective call centers in Northern California,” Johnson said. “Reassigning these positions, which are focused on the customer experience, will result in all of our customers being better served in the long-term through call centers in Portland, Seattle and Denver.”
The call center specifically handles sales calls for the cable provider, Johnson said.
The Comcast call center opened in Morgan Hill in 2004 at 18665 Madrone Parkway. According to past stories, they hired about 400 employees when it opened.
Most other employees who commented to the Times about the closure and the loss of their jobs as they left the meeting declined to offer their names.
Management told the 300 or so employees they have three options about their immediate future, Johnson said.
Employees can opt to transfer to one of the call centers in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, with relocation assistance amounting to $3,000. Or they can choose to transition into another position at Comcast California. Or they can transition out of business with the company with a minimum four-week severance package, based on seniority and other criteria.
All three options come with a $1,000 “performance bonus,” if the employees meet their prescribed goals and standards from now until Nov. 30, Johnson said. Employees have until Oct. 1 to make their decision.
Cortez, who plans to seek another job with Comcast California, worries that the offer of a performance bonus is another veiled effort to trim their costs to appease the employees whose jobs are moving. “They give us numbers to hit, and if we don’t hit them they don’t have to pay the severance,” Cortez said.
He noted that Comcast has been a good company to work for the last eight years, but it could improve its communication with employees.
Comcast was required to notify the call center employees in advance of its closure under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, Johnson said. That law requires large companies to give notice to employees when conducting mass layoffs.
With commercial development inching up in Morgan Hill - several precision machining and manufacturing companies moved into town over the past year, not to mention the opening of the 77,000-square-foot Hobby Lobby which employs 74 people – Little is hopeful that those displaced by Comcast will find alternative, local jobs.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.2 percent of Morgan Hill's population was unemployed as of July. The nation’s unemployment rate as of August was 8.1 percent.
“We as a community don’t like to see anybody lose their jobs,” she said.
A woman who said she has been a Comcast employee for 15 years but wished to remain anonymous said she expected the call center’s closure.
“This is where I was interviewed,” she said, referring to the community center. “And this is where I was laid off.”
Others said it was a relief to finally know the details of their future – as they had watched their co-workers get laid off earlier in the year.
“It wasn’t a huge surprise,” one employee said. They said there was no big reaction out of the crowd of about 300 who attended the meeting Tuesday, where they learned the details of their severance options and relocation assistance.
“It was a business decision,” another employee said. “They can do it cheaper by outsourcing.”
The parking lot of the community center remained crowded after the meeting, with Comcast employees discussing the news that just broke and attempting to console each other with hugs, tears and, in some instances, levity.
One man yelled across the lot to his colleague, “Hey man, go get a job why don't ya?”
Another laughed as he said, “You won’t be able to print what I have to say.”
Carly Gelsinger and Lindsay Weaver contributed to this story.