Despite the national surge in COVID-19 cases, the giant federal healthcare contractor Maximus has directed managers and supervisors not to approve any COVID-19 leave requests, and not to refer employees to human resources for COVID leave through early December. This "COVID-19 leave blackout" applies to the thousands of Maximus employees who respond to Medicare and ACA calls. While some employees are now working remotely, many are working out of Maximus' call centers.
"I feel like I'm putting myself back at risk, and they don't care," said Sylvia Walker, who works at the Maximus call center in Bogalusa, La. "COVID is very much alive in this city and in this state where I live. The people you encounter on the phones are already stressed. They're feeling lonely, they call, they cry, they are distraught, and we have to deal with that. The company shouldn't be adding additional stress on us and putting policies in place that could put us, our families, and our communities at risk of contracting a deadly virus when we are working hard to serve the public."
Since before the pandemic hit, workers at Maximus call centers have been organizing to join CWA to address low wages and poor working conditions. Maximus also recently informed workers of devastating changes to their individual health coverage, increasing deductibles to $4,500 next year and increasing maximum out-of-pocket expenses by 20%, to $6,000, in 2021.
"With these changes, almost everything I need currently for my health care is subject to a $4,500 deductible," said Christopher Thomas, who works at the Maximus call center in Lawrence, Kan. "Now seeing my neurologist will cost me about $500 per visit and my meds that they prescribe are now basically unaffordable to me with this new plan. What kind of employer guts medical coverage in the middle of a global pandemic?"