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Xerox explained to the Lexington Herald-Leader why it only pays call center workers $10 an hour plus benefits. Xerox, with its acquisition of ACS, has 5,000 workers in Kentucky. The issue came up because Amazon announced it is opening a call center paying workers $15 an hour plus benefits.

The newspaper asked CEO Ursula Burns and COO Connie Harvey if Amazon’s wages will force Xerox to up worker pay:

Burns: …we have a business to run. We pay the market. So we’ll continue to pay to market on the jobs we have in Kentucky,

(snip)

Harvey: And we have not, at least until this point in time, had trouble finding employees. If we started having trouble finding employees, we would not be putting more jobs here. So we’ll see how it plays out.

(snip)

Q: When you say you pay “market,” what is considered market here?

Harvey: In Lexington, we usually pay $10 an hour plus benefits. And then obviously with seniority and advanced skill sets, that can increase.

(snip)

Harvey: We look at it, we’ve got to be competitive for the customer. We can give them a call center in India, we can give them a call center in Lexington, we can give them a call center in Lexington or Phoenix.

Xerox pays low wages because it has no trouble finding people to work for low wages. And if it can’t find people to work for low wages, it will go elsewhere.

“They could move those jobs to India and pay $10 a day,” said tax expert, Rochesterian and Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston. “The fundamental trend is to push U.S. wages down in a global economy.”

Xerox can run its business the way it wants. But should government continue to pay Xerox to open call centers under the guise of economic development? How does a $10-an-hour worker contribute to the economy when he can barely support himself, much less his family?

Call centers are often criticized for low wages, opening and closing quickly, having no career track for workers and having high turnover.

The comments from the Xerox executives are particularly troubling for the Rochester area as Xerox transitions into a service-based company. As Burns recently told the Democrat and Chronicle, “The thing that made Xerox ‘Xerox’ in Rochester, which was the maker of technology, will not be the exclamation point after that.”

In other words, say hello to more call center jobs and say goodbye to the thought of more engineers.

Rochester needs to make things, invent things and provide high-level services. Call centers may be good for people desperate for jobs (emphasis on may), but we cannot call them a win for our community and economy.

Xerox has a new promotional video called “A World Made Simpler…by Xerox.”

Xerox uses document imagery throughout the video, as if wanting to remind us of its rich heritage in the copy machine business. But the video is absolutely not about documents. It touts the company’s shift into being a service provider that creates systems for paying for the bus, monitoring traffic, setting up call centers and helping your doctor access your health data.

I was left wondering what Xerox does. When a company wants to be known less for making things and more for what it provides, it becomes harder to define.

More importantly, the evolving Xerox brand has major implications for Rochester, its technology center. It could mean fewer jobs and lower-wage jobs. In a quote that resonates, Ursula Burns told the Democrat and Chronicle recently:

While Rochester will remain the headquarters and primary hub of Xerox’s technology business, Burns said, “The thing that made Xerox ‘Xerox’ in Rochester, which was the maker of technology, will not be the exclamation point after that.”

Links of the Day:

– Arthur Shawcross wasn’t Rochester’s only serial killer. John White was suspected of murdering prostitutes around the same time, but he died before police could make an arrest. The Buffalo News ran a wire story crediting a database researcher for exposing the murders, which is simply not true. The case got extensive attention in Rochester in the 1990s. Reporters who remember the coverage are incredulous:

– A New York Times reporter put on a tux and crashed an exlcusive Wall Street fraternity party. What he saw is reminiscent of the Buffalo law firm Halloween party.

– Ursula Burns is selling her six-bedroom, six-bath home in Brighton. It’s quite beautiful.

– Kodak’s bankruptcy could complicate the redevelopment of Eastman Business Park. notably, Assemblyman Joe Morelle is concerned the governor’s office isn’t engaged in the importance of the industrial complex’s future.

– Maybe there’s hope for Kodak’s motion picture film division. A study finds the preservation of digital movies is a huge issue. They don’t hold up like film.

– The FCC is looking at NFL blackout rules. The Buffalo News has contact information if you’d like to weigh in. I always thought it was kind of nervy for the government to require broadcast and cable companies to block out a signal of games televised at publicly-funded stadiums. Others think one has nothing to do with the other.

– “You look like you just rolled out of bed.” Apparently, that’s all the rage now. The Wall Street Journal tells us pajama pants and loungewear is very trendy. The New York Times writes messy hair and smudged makeup is cool. Let’s hope this fad fades fast.