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Call Center Gives Bonuses - and It's Hiring Hundreds

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
       April Gallegos, a senior representative at the West Side Verizon call center, is going to spend her bonus on credit card debt, shopping and maybe a trip to the casino.
    Her what? Bonus? In this economy?
    At a time when a lot of companies around Albuquerque and nationwide are canceling raises, suspending bonuses and freezing pensions, Phoenix-based Verizon is shaking the hand that bakes its bread.
    "Sometimes, companies use the economy to justify not taking care of their employees," said Robyn Lumb, human resources manager for the call center at Coors and Central SW. "That's not the company I work for. There was no conversation about not giving the STIs (short term incentive raises).
    "The company is performing very well, and that's because of our employees. They are the foundation of our company. They are the ones out there taking the calls every day. It's a tough job."
    On Friday, the call center's 1,270 employees got performance-based bonuses of up to 8 percent of their salaries, Lumb said. Bonuses are based on company and employee performance for 2008.
    Starting salaries at Verizon are $27,000; $28,500 for bilingual call-takers. Nationwide, Verizon employs 86,000 people and has 26 call centers. They all got bonuses Friday.
    And if the one-time bonuses weren't enough, the company also gave its employees a 3 percent profit-sharing award, which was deposited into their 401(k) accounts, she said.
    Oh, and Verizon's West Side building also boasts a rare sight for these times: a "Now Hiring" sign. The call center is hiring an additional 350 to 400 employees.
    "We have a capacity for about 1,700," Lumb said. "We're focused on candidates that have an associate's degree or higher and bilingual candidates, too. And we promote from within — almost always."
    She attributes the company's strong performance — despite the nationwide economic slowdown — to good customer service and new products, such as the Blackberry Storm.
    The call center was buzzing Friday.
    There were lots of smiles, and the large monitors on the center's main floor read: "Happy STI (short term incentive raises)!" There were balloons and food in the company break room.
    Gallegos said she was pleasantly surprised by the size of her bonus.
    So was Matthew Springer, a technical coordinator at the call center.
    "With this economy, it's pretty awesome to see that we're still getting a nice bonus and hiring individuals," Springer said with a broad smile.
    The bonus is extra-sweet for Springer — his daughter turns 2 today. He and his wife are expecting a second child in the next few months.
    So what are his plans for the extra cash?
    "A lot of it will go towards (the children)," he said. "But we'll have some fun, too. I was thinking of a trip. Maybe Washington, D.C. I served in the military before I worked here, and I've never seen my nation's capital."

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