Public safety app Citizen is paying contract workers overseas to listen to US emergency scanners, sparking a recent union drive among its New York employees.
While staffers at New York City-based Citizen used to be responsible for listening to emergency scanners and writing up reports on police and emergency calls, that task is now being outsourced to about 200 contractors primarily based in Nairobi, Kenya, The Post has learned.
The cost-cutting move has left New York staff worried about their future at the company — and about the accuracy of Citizen’s safety reports, which are sent out to 7 million users across 30 US cities.
“We’re actually at a really low point for quality,” a Citizen source told The Post, adding that the new contractors “are all very young and not as experienced.”
Starting this Wednesday, overseas workers will be fully responsible for sifting through all live emergency radio feeds in the US, according to the source, who works at Citizen but is not directly involved in the union drive.
Once the overseas workers hear something sufficiently newsworthy — like cops responding to a shooting in Brooklyn or firemen battling a three-alarm fire in Beverly Hills — the story will be “leveled up” and a US-based Citizen staffer will be responsible for writing notifications and filtering through user-submitted photos and videos, according to the source.
All these tasks were previously handled by Citizen’s US “central operations” team, whose employees are now moving to form a union. As the team’s duties have shrunk under the outsourcing plan, it has seen benefits like free meals taken away and paid time off policies have become more restrictive. They were also told they shouldn’t bother applying for other jobs at Citizen because they wouldn’t get them, according to the source.
While there haven’t been any official rounds of layoffs, there’s a sense within the group that they’re “being winnowed down,” the source said, adding that eight to 10 central operations employees out of 80 have left the company over the past two months. None of them have been replaced.
“People who are putting in their two weeks and want to finish up their two weeks are being told to leave immediately and being cut off from all their communications,” the source said.
A Citizen spokesperson confirmed the company was working with CloudFactory but disputed some of the source’s other claims. The spokesperson said four people — not eight to 10 — had left the central operations team over the past two months. The spokesperson also argued that central operations workers have other opportunities within the company but did not deny that the team is shrinking.
Some workers at Citizen are also reportedly concerned about making low-paid CloudFactory contractors listen to hours and hours of emergency calls in the US. These calls can include graphic descriptions of shootings, car wrecks and other gory events.
“They’re listening to pretty horrific things over the radio and they’re not getting the same mental health care as our analysts,” the source said.
Citizen — which has raised $133 million in funding from backers including Peter Thiel — argued that outsourcing the emergency radio monitoring gives Citizen’s US workers more time to focus on oversight. A company spokesperson also told The Post on Monday that the company was against “meddling from an outside union.”
The firm allegedly handling Citizen’s outsourcing is called CloudFactory, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
“CloudFactory uses technology to make it super easy and affordable to automate and outsource routine, but critically important data work so our customers can focus on the big things that will move their businesses forward,” reads the company’s website.