US Air’s Doug Parker is Man of the Year

by Jim Longworth

For the past 10 years I’ve been calling on Congress to repeal trade agreements that have sucked millions of jobs out of our country. I’ve taken corporations to task for not having the decency to bring jobs back to America from overseas.

And, I’ve criticized the use of taxpayer incentives which do nothing but move jobs from one locality to another. I had just about given up hope of any change in the status quo until earlier this month when a white knight flew into the Triad and restored my faith in capitalism.

Doug Parker, Chairman and CEO of Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways, appeared at the company’s Winston-Salem call center to announce that he was restoring 400 customer service jobs which had previously been moved to Mexico City and Manila. The announcement signaled the culmination of a deal that US Air struck with the Customer Service Employee Association back in 2004 in which thousands of call-center jobs would temporarily move out of the States in order to cut costs. The union workers who remained behind also agreed to a 13 percent pay cut. On Thursday, Nov. 3, Parker set things right and made good on a promise to bring jobs back home.

“This was a long term commitment the company made, and we had enough time to get it done,” Parker told me in an exclusive interview. “The union had done their part in allowing the company at a time of need to save some money, and we wanted to hold up our end of the bargain. We also know that having US Air employees answer our customers’ phone calls is better customer service than having people who aren’t our employees answering them.”

The initial restoration includes 200 jobs in Winston, 150 in Phoenix and 50 in Reno. By next April, another 200 employees will have been fully trained and ready to work in the Twin City, while Phoenix and Reno will add another 200 and 100 jobs respectively.

Locally, the expansion and transition has been made possible by about $60,000 in incentives provided by the city of Winston Salem, the Winston Salem Alliance and Winston Salem Business, Inc. I asked Parker exactly how those monies would be used.

“Well there are costs involved in getting those 400 people set up at desks, and operational at the call center. And, while the call center is there, there’s not enough equipment in place for those people to work, so incentive monies are used to get those people back to work,” said Parker. “Also, those numbers would have been skewed more to Phoenix and Reno had it not been for the incentives. It motivated us to put more of the jobs in Winston Salem, and that helps this region.”

And, having all domestic reservation calls handled by American workers will also improve US Air’s reputation. Earlier this year, for example, Consumer Reports ranked the company last in customer satisfaction among major airline carriers.

“A lot of that is past perception, and it’s hard to get that to go away,” Parker told me. “The airline in the past with all of its difficulties such as outsourcing reservations, resulted in some customer service that wasn’t as good as we’d have liked, so we fixed those problems by bringing reservations back on shore. I know that the airline’s actual customer service is much better now than the Consumer Reports survey would indicate.”

Parker is also hopeful that his counterparts in other industries will follow US Air’s lead, and start bringing jobs back to America. Regardless, Doug Parker should be recognized for a milestone achievement in the post NAFTA era. In fact, his job restoration program should land him on the cover of Time magazine as “Man of the Year.” Until then, US Air’s new workforce is celebrating their boss’s announcement. Vonda Hardy of CWA Local 3640 told the Winston Salem Journal and Fox 8, “They’ve honored our contract. The calls are back. We get vacation shift premiums back. It’s a great day.”

Parker echoed that sentiment, telling me, “That trip to Winston was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.” The best for us too, Doug. The best for us too.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).