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Thursday, June 1, 2006 02:41 pm

Long-distance burger orders

They’re even outsourcing jobs at fast-food franchises

OK, corporate America is shipping our manufacturing, high-tech, and professional service jobs off to Lowwagehellistan — but at least they can’t send our fast-food jobs away, right? After all, these require face-to-face dealings with customers, so surely they’re safe. Well, not exactly. Pull into the drive-thru lane at a McDonald’s, Hardee’s, or Carl’s Jr., and there’s a chance that the friendly voice on the intercom saying, “Do you want fries with that?” is not inside the building — or anywhere near your town. Unbeknownst to customers, these fast-food chains are testing a new computerized system that centralizes order-takers in faraway call centers. Pull up to the burger window in Mississippi or Honolulu, for example, and the voice saying, “Would you like to supersize your drink?” is likely to belong to one of 125 order-takers working out of the Bronco call center in Santa Maria, Calif. They take your order from a couple thousand miles away, then zap it back to your local burger-flipper by way of the Internet. Why? To cut labor, of course. By centralizing the process, order-taking can be regimented, speeded up, and closely monitored. Each call-center worker, who is paid only $6.75 an hour with no benefits, takes as many as 95 orders an hour — one and a half per minute! As Bronco’s big boss puts it: “Their job is to be fast on the mouse.”
Charming. Software constantly tracks the worker’s speed — and even in their break room, a computer screen ticks off the number of minutes each one has been away from his or her station. At least these call-center jobs are in America — but how long before they’re shipped offshore, where an order-taker can be had for a dollar or two a day?
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