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The Unum headquarters building is located in downtown Chattanooga.

A website that focuses on American companies that outsource work has made Chattanooga-based Unum Group a target of criticism, but the insurer defends its practice of what it calls partnering with other businesses.

Protectusworkers.org, the website, said Unum is about to outsource hundreds of technology jobs and is choosing a company to do so.

Sara Blackwell, a Florida attorney who runs the site, said Unum is talking to India-based companies with plans to outsource 300 to 400 posts.

"This Unum technology department will be in a different country," she said.

Unum spokesman M.C. Guenther called the jobs figure "speculation" and said the company isn't about to outsource that number of tech positions.

"It's such a dramatic number," she said. "I'm not sure where she's getting information."

But, Guenther said, the company has outsourced work going back at least 17 years and it's "months away from any final recommendations on what steps might be next."

"It's premature what will happen with that," she said.

Unum has about 10,000 employees worldwide, including about 2,600 in Chattanooga. The company does outsource in the application support and computer maintenance areas, along with other segments such as enrollment services and claims operations, Guenther said.

That doesn't mean all the work is outsourced overseas, she said.

"We have partnerships which are domestic and international," Guenther said. "That matches our business. We've got a U.S. and international presence."

Asked if some of the work was outsourced to India, she said she doesn't "have a clear line of sight" on locations.

"We've got a lot of old legacy [computer] systems," Guenther said. "Finding a resource that still knows those systems is difficult."

She said the company is always looking for "partner opportunities and evaluating those."

"It helps us be a stronger business," she said. "It translates into better services to customers and creates a stronger base for our home offices."

Guenther said Unum's worker headcount has increased slightly in recent years.

Blackwell said it's not an uncommon practice for companies to use outsourcing, citing other businesses in the insurance industry.

"Financially, it makes sense for companies to find these contracts with India-based companies," she said.

But, she added, "It's killing the American workforce."

Blackwell said the number of employees whose jobs are outsourced is hard to keep up with, since only the companies have exact figures.

She also worried Americans' personal medical information is going overseas along with the work.

Blackwell said countries such as India and Mexico don't abide by HIPPA rules, a U.S. regulation that establishes national standards to protect individuals' medical records and other personal health information.

Guenther said guarding customer data is a primary focus of Unum.

"All of it is stored in the U.S. and under stringent privacy controls," she said, adding any partner with which the company works operates with "an intense checklist."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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