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Ex-workers say call center cuts weren’t proper

Several former employees of a Jenkins call center that opened in September said they are picketing the facility to protest what they call “unlawful practices” by the center’s management.

Former National Healthcare Marketing employee Amber Fugate said she and a number of other former employees and their friends and supporters will begin picketing the Jenkins call center this week to draw attention to what they say are unfair labor practices.

“A lot of people in the community are very upset about how they are running business there,” Fugate wrote to The Mountain Eagle via email. “They have shorted people’s checks and they are firing unfairly — firing single mothers just before Christmas.”

Controversy began at the center in early November, when 22 workers were dismissed from their jobs of helping to sell dental insurance policies to potential customers in the states of Texas, Arizona, California, Florida, and Tennessee. The workers were told they were being let go because of their inability to meet production demands. In addition to the 22 firings, National Healthcare Marketing reduced the hourly pay for remaining workers from $11 an hour to $9 an hour and commission on the sale of insurance plans offered by Delta Dental and Careington.

National Healthcare CEO Sherri Paules of New Port Richey, Florida told The Mountain Eagle that the dismissals were just “part of the business” and were also the result of employees failing to meet the firm’s attendance requirements.

Paules said Tuesday night that she has been “made aware of the protest.”

“Unfortunately there is nothing I can do about it,” she told The Eagle.

“I wish former employees understood our business model and what is required to keep an ‘outbound lead generating’ call center operational. Weekly goals must be achieved to cover expenses. The folks that we have had to let go in the last three or four weeks were either not meeting their weekly goals or had attendance issues.”

Fugate and another former employee, Melissa Wisner, said they and others hoped to begin picketing outside the Jenkins center early Wednesday morning.

Wisner, who moved to Letcher County from Cincinnati to work for National Healthcare in September, said she quit the firm recently as a form of protest over the manner in which the fired workers were let go.

“So many broken promises,” Wisner said, adding that she believes the company is using the poor local economy “against the people” who had been promised a chance “to climb the ladder” of success.

Wisner said it has been very difficult to see former co-workers, including one single mother who was fired last week, lose the only income they had just before Christmas.

“She can’t even put food on her table right now,” Wisner said. “I love to work, but to see people crying about losing their job got to be too much. I quit; I wasn’t fired. I was a top performer.”

Wisner and Fugate said that since the initial layoffs in November, workers at the Jenkins center have been likening themselves to contestants on the “Survivor” realty TV series, wondering “who would be next to get booted off the island.”

Paules said she is “sorry it has come to this, but if want to continue to offer jobs in Jenkins we will be hiring and letting go until we find the right folks that can be successful on the phones.”

“Our team of employees and managers will report to work tomorrow as they do every day and we will do business as usual — call people, generate interest about our incredible dental plan and transfer the call to a specialist who can answer any questions they have about the dental plan,” Paules said. “Our business model is not for everyone. Outbound cold calling is not an easy job.”

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