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N4T Investigators: Call center crisis?

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TUCSON - Five current and former trainees at an east side call center say management has not been practicing social distancing.

The trainees work, or until recently, worked at the large AFNI call center on E. Escalante Road.

All spoke under the conditions that they not be identified.

The current and former employees said they felt unsafe because as recently as two weeks ago, they were sitting “elbow-to-elbow” in training classes.

They claim when they complained to management, they were told they could resign.

The two former trainees News 4 Tucson interviewed said they have no intention to return, even though they need a job.

One former trainee said she has underlying health conditions and felt at-risk in the classroom.

She told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, “I’m very, very angry. And I don’t think it’s safe for anybody that’s working there right now. We were elbow to elbow. I mean [as of] April 1st they were still not following it when I went in.”

Another former trainee, who worked at AFNI for a month, said he also has underlying health issues.

He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators in a phone interview that his last day in class was last Friday.

He said while trainees were no longer sitting elbow to elbow, they were nowhere close to the recommended six feet apart.

“We were about two-and-a-half feet away from each other,” he said. "I could reach out my arm and touch my neighbor."

He also said there were approximately 25 trainees in the classroom a month ago but about 10 dropped out last Friday, his last day, due to health concerns.

“There were multiple people around me who were coughing and expressing the fact that they weren’t feeling well, " he said. "That their family at home were not feeling well, that they had experienced fevers and dry coughs, and we were right up on top of each other practically and it made me fear for my health and what I was going to bring home to my own family.”

We reached out to AFNI for its response to the complaints.

Matt Pendergrass, director of Global Marketing & Communications for the Illinois-based company, sent this statement:

“Like many businesses, we have been diligently working to navigate this global health crisis and government interventions taking place everywhere we do business. We have done this with the safety and well-being of our employees as our highest priority as we deliver on our customer commitments around the world.
Even prior to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s statewide stay at home order, which went into effect Tuesday, March 31, and which we are exempt from, we were deploying systemic work-from-home capabilities for our entire workforce in Tucson and in our other locations.
Today, 85% of our workforce based at the facility on Escalante Road is working from home; this number is expected to grow to 95% in a week. This has allowed us to further our social/physical distancing efforts; we’ve reconfigured our entire facility, which is more than 50,000 square feet.
If you enter any of our training rooms in that facility today, you will see that social distancing provisions are in place; this includes but is not limited to allowing a maximum of only ten people in any one classroom, instead of 20-25 under normal circumstances, and all classrooms have been reconfigured to allow for social/physical distancing consistent with guidance issued by prominent health organizations.”

Matt Pendergrass, director of Global Marketing & Communications of AFNI

The woman who trained at AFNI for two weeks said, “Put this class on hold or put us five in a room and separate us. Honestly, I think they should cancel all classes until this is lifted.”

Both former trainees we interviewed said they are filing complaints with the state Industrial Commission.

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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