First there was the generous incentive package the city of Kalispell offered to lure Stream International to the Flathead Valley in 2000. Then there were the grants put up by both public and private sources to pay for training Stream employees on the computer and phone systems needed to run a call center. Now, following the closure of Stream’s call center in Kalispell, public money is once again pouring in the direction of this multi-national company.
The Stream-Kalispell site provided technical support and customer service for high-tech firms like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. In April, 245 workers were let go from the Microsoft contract. On July 8, 330 employees—most of them employed on the Hewlett-Packard contract—were given their notices. The Stream-Kalispell site will officially turn off the lights at the end of August.
“This was a very difficult decision,” wrote company spokesperson Birgit Johnston in an e-mail immediately following the closure announcement. “Unfortunately we had to take these actions due to the economic downturn and to meet customer’s demand for cost-effective solutions.”
Here’s one solution: Move the jobs to Canada where Stream can pay at least $1 an hour less in wages while avoiding high employee health insurance costs, as the Canadian government picks those up.
When the Stream site in Chilliwack, British Columbia first opened, employees from Stream-Kalispell helped train new staffers, only to later see the company’s contract work head north of the border. That happened in April, when the first round of layoffs at Stream-Kalispell was announced. At the time, Stream-Chilliwack employees reported rapid growth at their new site, with more than 1,000 staffers filling cubicles and manning the phones.
Back in Montana, the state’s Department of Labor has been trying to deal with the first round of Stream layoffs. The Department recently received a $2.3 million federal emergency grant to “provide re-employment and transition services” to 200 ex-Stream employees let go in April. The grant also targets another 176 displaced workers from various companies in Lincoln and Flathead counties.
Stream-Kalispell is not directly involved with the current $2.3 million re-training grant. Instead, the money will channel through the local Job Service office and a program called Project Challenge. Both organizations specialize in jump-starting the careers of unemployed workers. And while the Flathead Job Service is a state-run office, Project Challenge is managed by the AFL-CIO, which is notable given Stream’s anti-union track record. Last year, Stream-Kalispell fought efforts by employees to organize. But now, with the federal government picking up the tab, ex-Stream staffers are welcome to seek help from a labor union.