Telemarketing plant closed

Gannett employees were told the new do-not-call list would not affect their jobs, but the closure notice told another story.
Sunday, October 5, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:19 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

John and Shalloh Crandall got up early, dressed their 4-month-old son Joshua, and headed out to collect their final pay checks before filing for unemployment benefits.

The Crandalls lost their jobs on Tuesday along with 58 other employees who worked for Gannett Telemarketing Inc. They were told by the company two weeks ago that the new national do-not-call list approved by Congress would not affect their jobs, but the closure notice taped on the front door of the office told another story.

“As you know, the legislative changes affecting telemarketing have changed the structure of business,” reads the notice. It continues on to say the company, which was located in the basement of the City Centre on South Ninth Street, was closing one day before the new law went into effect on Wednesday.

“I loved that job,” said Shalloh Crandall, 18, who worked with her husband as a telemarketer at Gannett for about a month. She said that was their only source of income, and they will both have to file for unemployment benefits.

The Crandalls lost their jobs in the midst of a legal battle between federal courts and government agencies to determine the future of the national do-not-call list, a battle which has made telemarketers confused and weary about the future of the industry.

Gannett Telemarketing Inc., a subsidiary of the Gannett Co., was the first casualty. On Wednesday, the company closed its five call centers around the country, which had 19 full-time and 400 part-time employees.

“The operation for Gannett is no longer cost-effective,” said Tara Connell, the company spokeswoman. “The do-not-call list is essentially the bottom line here.”

Telemarketers argue that the government has no right to step into their business practices.

“If this list is put into effect, you are looking at the loss of close to 2 million jobs and the loss of $6 billion in sales,” said Dave Schemelia, the spokesman of the American Teleservices Association. “Probably a third of telemarketing companies will have to let people go.”

Enforcement of the federal no-call list remains in legal limbo.

The Federal Communication Commission is asking telemarketers to respect the do-not-call list after a recent court decision prevented the Federal Trade Commission, the group that established the list, from enforcing it.

The list currently contains more than 50 million phone numbers. The list does not apply to charitable organizations, research firms and politicians, however.

A representative from Business Response Inc., a St. Louis-based telemarketing company with a call center in Columbia, said the company had not been affected by the new list.

Missouri has enforced its own do-not-call list since July 2001. More than one million households have registered, and more than $1 million in fines have been collected by the state.

But for small telemarketing companies, the combination of the state and national do-not-call list is a double burden.

Tom Riley, who closed his telemarketing business in Jefferson City after the state list took effect two years ago, said small companies cannot comply with the rule.

He said small-company entrepreneurs will be out of business because they cannot foot the bill for the expensive software and computers necessary to comply with both the national and state laws.

The software is necessary to ensure that a number from the list is not called inadvertently.

“Telemarketers are not very popular, somewhere around the ranks of politicians and car salesman,” Riley said. “If they really wanted to be fair about it, they’d block all telemarketing calls, but they exclude themselves because they are politicians.”

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