State

Salida call center shutdown puts 147 out of work

SALIDA -- Almost 150 workers soon will join the ranks of the unemployed after a call center announced it would close June 1.

Stellar Relay operates the state-funded relay center, which helps the deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired communicate over the phone.

It has filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act with the California Employment Development Department saying it will close and lay off its 147 Salida workers.

The impending closure isn't surprising.

In February, the state awarded a new contract for the relay service to another vendor. And last month, a Stellar Relay spokeswoman said the call center would close if her company could not find new business opportunities by June.

These layoffs won't help Stanislaus County's unemployment rate, which was 19.2 percent in March, the most recent month for which statistics are available.

But the call center workers have skills that employers want, said Jeff Rowe, director of the Alliance Worknet, which is part of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.

"These folks have excellent customer service skills," Rowe said. "They have that in their favor. But there is no question they will be competing with other job seekers with those skills; at least, they have skills that are very much in demand in every industry. They should have a pretty good chance in finding employment if they work at it."

Alliance Worknet has scheduled several meetings with the call center workers, Rowe said. The first is next week. He said his agency will help workers update their résumés, with job search techniques and in applying for unemployment benefits.

Stellar Relay will not provide its workers with severance pay, human resources manager Casey Scott said. She said Stellar started notifying workers March 30 that they would be laid off.

Stellar has operated the call center in Salida since August 2008, Scott said. Before moving to Salida, Stellar Relay -- then known as Stellar Nordia -- operated the call center in Riverbank. It had 700 to 800 workers until the operation was downsized two years ago.

Stellar runs the center for Rocklin-based Purple Communications, which holds the state contract to provide the service. That contract expires in June, and Purple Communications did not bid on the new contract, saying the operation no longer was profitable.

The California Public Utilities Commission awarded the new three-year contract in February to AT&T and Nebraska-based Hamilton Relay.

A Hamilton Relay official said in March that Hamilton's six call centers would process the Salida center's calls.

Stellar Relay is part of Stellar Global, a Canadian company.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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