Telemarketers brace for job loss

As President Bush signed legislation this week to protect American households from unwanted phone calls, 19-year-old Butte College student Frank Roehr wondered how he would pay the rent should the federal law be approved in court.

Roehr, who’s already suffered an increase in tuition at Butte because of the state’s dire economy, makes ends meet by working five hours a day, five days a week for Chico-based telemarketer Impact Marketing.

Roehr’s job is in jeopardy because of state and federal legislation penned by politicians catering to the complaints of Americans who don’t want to be called in their homes by strangers making a pitch for products or services. Impact markets subscriptions for newspapers nationwide, including the Enterprise-Record.

However, a federal judge in Oklahoma has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission does not have the authority to administer the so-called “do-not-call” list—a collection of 40 million telephone numbers of those who don’t want to be called.

In response, the Federal Communications Commission has stepped in and said it will set up the list that could lead to fines for the telemarketers that violate it. A federal judge in Denver has ruled the list violates First Amendment free-speech rights by applying the ban to some entities—businesses, mainly—but not others, such as charities, religious groups or political parties.

“I don’t know what will happen when I’m unable to pay my rent,” Roehr said, noting that jobs in Chico are difficult to find.

Telemarketing is a $275 billion-a-year business employing about 5.4 million people across the nation; as many as 2 million of them, many single mothers or disabled, could lose their jobs.

Chris Howell, owner of Impact, says his company, which operates out of the Garden Walk Mall, has already lost a lot of business.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” he said.

He is already complying with the do-not-call law, contacting only those numbers that have not signed onto the list. But that means his clients in different regions of the nation have fewer numbers to call, and that will translate to fewer callers.

He has 13 employees and will likely have to make some lay-offs.

But he insists his 5-year-old company will survive.

“I feel strong about it,” he said. “I got into it at the right time.”

Howell says he thinks it is indeed an issue of free speech, and he finds it ironic that his company sells newspaper subscriptions.

"Last night we had a number of people [the company called] letting us know that [the legislation] is not right," he said.