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March 16, 2006

Pa. to investigate AT&T layoffs

From: Centre Daily Times - Centre County,PA,USA - Mar 16, 2006

Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania's utility regulators on Thursday ordered an investigation into whether more than 250 job cuts by AT&T in Pennsylvania will affect the quality of its services, including those for the hard of hearing, deaf and speech impaired.

The investigation, approved 4-1 by the Public Utility Commission, comes after AT&T assured regulators that its acquisition by SBC Communications Inc. last fall would "in time produce jobs."

The utility commission approved the acquisition in October. In February, AT&T said it planned the layoffs in Pennsylvania. Those include about 210 people at a Pittsburgh customer service call center and about 45 out of 200 employees at a New Castle call center which relays calls by people who are hard of hearing, deaf or speech impaired.

If the utility commission's staff finds that the quality of AT&T's service has declined, the commission has the option of fining the company if it doesn't fix the problem.

"We can certainly order the company to take whatever steps are necessary to provide reliable service," said Wendell F. Holland, the PUC chairman who made the motion for the investigation.

The number of layoffs, he said, are "an awful lot."

AT&T said closing the Pittsburgh center is a cost-cutting move and the jobs will be consolidated with another center in Missouri, which can handle the calls from there. The New Castle center has seen a declining call volume in Pennsylvania, and 45 of those positions will be moved to a Baltimore call center, said AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp.

Of those 45, some have already chosen to take early retirements, he said.

The work force in New Castle "will remain at whatever level is necessary to ensure that the highest quality is met," Sharp said.

The utility commission's dissenting vote was cast by Terrance Fitzpatrick, who said he supports an investigation into the quality of the relay service, but did not think the agency had evidence to investigate whether the wider job cuts threaten the company's overall service quality.

"This commission does not have authority to regulate the work force levels of public utilities, unless the work force levels prevent a utility from providing adequate service," he said.

People who are hard of hearing, deaf or speech impaired can use the relay service by dialing 711. An operator then relays teletype messages to the person receiving the call.

© 2006 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.