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J.C. Penney to close customer call center in Harmar

About 300 workers at J.C. Penney's customer call center off of Route 910 will lose their jobs by July 1.

The giant, struggling retailer announced the furloughs on Thursday.

A majority of the jobs are part time, according to company spokesman Tim Lyons, who could not provide the number of part-time and full-time employees at the Route 910 call center.

He said the employees who will be losing their jobs July 1 likely will not be absorbed into JCPenney stores or other operations.

"Typically when we close a facility we will provide some assistance in helping them land a job outside the company," Lyons said.

He said he did not know the salary range or an average salary for employees at the center.

State Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, the House Democratic leader, pledged in a written statement to "work with county, state and federal agencies to assist workers who lose their jobs.

"There are specific resources for this type of situation," Dermody said, "and we want to be sure that every person affected knows about the help that is available."

J.C. Penney customer care centers in Columbus, Ohio and Milwaukee will remain open, he said.

The local layoffs constitute a third of the furloughs Penney announced Thursday.

The company has laid off 600 workers -- 13 percent of the staff -- at its headquarters in Plano, Texas, as the company looks to streamline its operations amid a major reinvention of the business.

Lyons said that Penney's new pricing strategy was the main reason for closing the center.

"Since we introduced our new pricing strategy in February -- we did away with all our coupons and weekend specials -- our call volume at the centers declined noticeably," he said.

He said that new strategy includes three levels:

• An "every day" price, which is essentially the sale prices for goods in the past.

• A monthly special, which lowers prices below the everyday price on some items for an entire month

• "Best price Fridays" on the first and third Fridays of each month, when the price on various items will be lowest.

"Customers don't have to worry about having coupons or coming in on a certain day," he said.

The result was that there were few questions of that nature coming into the call centers, according to Lyons.

Dermody also said government officials "also need to seek other employers to move into the area and capitalize on the skilled work force that exists here."

Tom Yerace can be reached at tyerace@tribweb.com.

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