Stream dries up 

Despite reassurances, call center pulls out of Silver City

Maybe it was the mutually rugged Western landscapes and big, lonely skies. Then again, maybe it was the similar cash incentives doled out with little or no oversight. Whatever brought Stream International to Kalispell and Silver City, N.M., the stories unfolding in both places are remarkably similar.

Last month, Stream announced that it was laying off a third of its workforce in Kalispell (see “You’re Fired!” by David Madison, April 24, 2003). When the layoffs were made public, site director Matt Skuodas phoned city leaders to assure them that Stream remains committed to its site in Kalispell.

Less than a month earlier, Stream spokesman J.P. Jones had assured Silver City that a round of layoffs announced in March was “business as usual,” and that rumors of the company’s imminent departure from its site in New Mexico were untrue. A few weeks later, Stream announced that its facility in Silver City will close in July.

Word of the Silver City closing came immediately after Stream settled an employee complaint there with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The complaint echoed the stories of Stream-Kalispell staffers who ran afoul of the company when they tried to organize last year. In the Silver City NLRB complaint, Stream was accused of intimidating pro-union employees. Instead of fighting the charges, Stream settled the case.

“Basically, they admitted to their wrongdoing,” says Mark Esrig, a New Mexico-based representative of the Communication Workers of America.

Speaking from company headquarters in California, Solectron spokesperson Birgit Johnston counters: “There was no admittance of wrongdoing” on the part of Stream.

But no one is blaming the union for Stream’s retreat from Silver City. Instead, the closure is attributed to a general faltering of the economy. Parent company Solectron announced on March 20 that it had already cut 40,000 jobs over the previous nine quarters, and that it planned to cut 12,000 more by the end of this year.

At least 700 positions will vanish from the Stream site in Silver City. Other positions are currently being cut from Stream’s site in Dallas, Texas. When asked if she could offer any reassurances to employees worried about their jobs at the Stream-Kalispell site, Solectron’s Johnston says, “As you know, Solectron has announced on March 20 that we would have further downsizing. It’s not appropriate for us to speculate on any individual sites.”

While Solectron/Stream will offer no guarantees about its future in Kalispell, the company recently promised to fire anyone caught disclosing “trade secrets.” The stern warning was intended to keep Stream information from leaking outside the company. Other recent actions reportedly prevent information from entering the Stream-Kalispell site.

Current employees report that copies of the Independent’s April 24 cover story about Stream were banned from the Kalispell facility. These same employees say Stream management has also blocked the Independent’s Web site. When staffers type in, instead of news, they get a blocking screen illustrated with a giant red hand. Next to the hand is this warning: “Danger Will Robinson! Access to this site has been denied by SuperScout.”

Solectron’s Johnston offers an inconsistent explanation for the Indy’s less-than-warm welcome at the Stream-Kalispell facility.

“What I can tell you is that we don’t target specific Web sites vs. other Web sites,” says Johnston, who is unable to explain why Stream staffers were suddenly blocked from the site immediately following the publication of the paper’s April 24 cover story.

Johnston’s reasoning about why paper copies of the April 24 issue were banned from the Stream-Kalispell site is equally confusing. The spokesperson says, “We don’t ban any papers. Your paper or any other paper” before confirming that the Independent was indeed barred from the call center in Kalispell.

Johnston bends Solectron’s logic this way, saying the paper “was soliciting.” How was the paper soliciting? Johnston can’t say, explaining that, “From my understanding, it was being pushed through the fences. If it’s considered to be disrupting the employees, then it would be discouraged.”

According to reports passed on by Stream management to Johnston, employees were handing copies of the Indy to one another through a fence outside the Stream-Kalispell site. That, says Johnston, created a disturbance and therefore, the paper was not allowed inside the Kalispell facility. To this, Johnston adds, “We did not ban the paper.”

In response to the April 24 cover story, the Independent has received messages from current and former Stream employees in New Mexico, Tennessee, Oregon and Ontario. The stories are mostly the same—tales of a high-stress, low-pay workplace propped up by publicly fun-ded incentive packages that allow the company to maintain a high turnover rate because it’s often the taxpayer who picks up the bill for training new employees.

In New Mexico, the state provided more than $1.7 million in job training funds to Stream. In Kalispell, a Community Development Block Grant, combined with another grant from Flathead Electric Cooperative, provided Stream with $650,000 in training money.

Jeanetta Campbell, a current employee at Stream-Silver City, thinks the money put toward training has helped some staffers become more technically savvy and potentially more employable. But it’s not the résumé bullets she’ll remember Stream for. It’s the Prozac prescriptions.

“You can’t talk to anybody at Stream who doesn’t know somebody who’s on Prozac,” says Campbell. “Every doctor in town will tell you that this places makes you nuts.”

Ever-changing work schedules and constant pressure from bosses and angry callers create lots of job stress in Silver City, she says, repeating stories depressingly similar to those told by Stream-Kalispell employees.

“Did Stream benefit our community? Yeah,” continues Campbell, who’s just weeks away from her last day at Stream. “Did we all make a little money? Yeah. But we all paid a high price to work there.”

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