Ever since Microsoft opened a call center in Bangalore, India, in 2003, taking advantage of that nation's highly skilled and relatively...

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Ever since Microsoft opened a call center in Bangalore, India, in 2003, taking advantage of that nation’s highly skilled and relatively low-paid workers, employees at its call center in Sammamish have waited for what they feared was inevitable.

Yesterday it happened to some. Thirty-three Sammamish employees were laid off because their work is being shifted abroad, including to the Bangalore office.

Altogether, Microsoft is cutting the jobs of 72 employees who take customer calls at company facilities in Sammamish; Las Colinas, Texas; and Charlotte, N.C.

“They’re just taking away the jobs here because of the cost issue,” said one of the laid-off employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardizing chances of finding a job elsewhere in the company.

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The jobs are being transferred abroad, but most will be outsourced to a call-center company in Canada, Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said. About 20 percent will shift to Microsoft’s Bangalore office.

Microsoft continues to employ 1,800 in Sammamish, and about 28,000 people throughout the Puget Sound region.

Jobs being cut are first-tier positions that route incoming calls for help with Microsoft products, Gellos said. He said the division doesn’t contemplate further cuts.

The remaining call-center workers provide higher-level and “premier” customer service, and serve Microsoft’s biggest customers, including the U.S. government and big companies.

The employee said the layoffs weren’t a surprise.

Executives have publicly acknowledged job cuts were possible after the Bangalore office got up to speed. The office was opened in mid-2003 on a trial basis, then formally opened last October.

The Bangalore center had 350 employees last year, but there was room for 500 in the flashy office complex that also houses IBM and Dell. Many employees there have advanced degrees and experience working for other U.S. or Indian tech companies.

Microsoft also is expanding a research lab in Bangalore and a large software-development center in Hyderabad, another one of the country’s technology hubs.

For many U.S. consumers, a call for technical support is an introduction to the globalization of the computer and software industry. Customer-support calls are now routed all over the world as companies take advantage of time-zone differences and inexpensive labor in developing countries.

India has benefited more than most because of workers’ relatively high education and English skills. Call-center employees there are paid an average $6,200 a year vs. $43,000 in the U.S., according to an Indian trade association.

The situation prompted layoff rumors that began several years ago at the Microsoft facilities. It also drew the attention of WashTech, a Seattle labor group trying to organize tech workers.

Told of the layoffs yesterday, WashTech organizer Marcus Courtney said Microsoft should retrain the workers to fill the vacant positions the company claims to have trouble filling.

“They’re laying off skilled Microsoft employees, and the company has been in an effort to say they can’t find skilled, qualified workers,” he said. “Here it seems like they’re speaking out of both sides of their mouths.”

Gellos denied the layoffs are the start of a broader shift of work to India. He said it’s the end of consolidation that also will add 16 different positions in Sammamish.

“This is not the beginning of something; it’s really the end of something,” he said.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com