(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 21--CenturyLink notified its Medford call center employees Thursday that it plans to close its facility there on June 6, triggering the layoff of 114 workers.
"We're closing it as part of our efforts to remain competitive by reducing our cost structure," said Heather Koch, a spokeswoman for the phone company. She said the work will shift to an existing CenturyLink facility in La Crosse, Wisc.
Workers who choose to relocate will receive assistance to make the move, Koch said, or a severance payment if they choose to leave the company.
The Medford region has the highest jobless rate of any of Oregon's large metro areas, at 8.9 percent in January.
"Every job is important, particularly when you live in a region that's had relatively high unemployment," said Brad Hicks, president of the chamber of commerce for Medford and Jackson County. Call centers are under growing financial pressure, he said, as telecom companies strive to keep prices down by containing costs.
CenturyLink became Oregon's largest phone company in 2011 when it bought Qwest Communications. It serves Portland and many other communities around the state.
But its core business, landline phone service, is under intense pressure as consumers shift to cell phones and companies rely more on data communication. CenturyLink had about 607,000 phone lines in the state in 2012, according to the latest data from the Oregon Public Utility Commission, less than half the 1.3 million Qwest lines a decade earlier.
Call center work pays modestly -- around $30,000 a year statewide, on average, according to the Oregon Employment Department. But they are important employers in many small communities around the state.
Overall, call center employment is climbing in Oregon. The state had a little more than 12,000 call center jobs last summer, according to the most recent data available. That's up 24 percent from the same time in 2011 and near an all-time high.
Update: This article has been updated with comment from CenturyLink and the Medford/Jackson County chamber of commerce.
-- Mike Rogoway; twitter: @rogoway; phone: 503-294-7699
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