700 Obamacare and Medicare Workers Stage Largest Federal Call Center Strike in History at Maximus Call Centers in Seven States
Communications Workers of America Hosted National Press Call Featuring Stacey Abrams Challenging the Biden Admin. to Follow Through on Its Commitment to Creating Good Jobs for Federal Contract Workers
Yesterday, 700 call center workers at Maximus, the federal government’s largest call center contractor, walked off the job in the largest federal call center strike in history. Centers in Hattiesburg, MS and Bogalusa, LA were largely shut down, while workers also joined the strike in Albany, NY, Chester, VA, Phoenix, AZ, London, KY and Tampa, FL, impacting call response times. The strike comes during the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicare open enrollment periods.
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Maximus operates the largest federally-contracted call centers in the country under contracts with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which are operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Maximus workers handle millions of Obamacare and Medicare calls, and answer questions for the CDC-INFO line under a nine-year, $6.6 billion federal contract. These customer service agents are predominantly Black and Latina women at twelve call centers.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) hosted a national press call featuring Stacey Abrams in conjunction with the nationwide day of strikes to call on the Biden Administration to back up its commitment to “good jobs” with concrete action. The press call featured powerful stories from striking workers about the hardships they face due to low wages and inadequate benefits. The workers are calling on the Biden Administration to require livable wages of $25 per hour on federal call center contracts, ensure workers have access to affordable health care, and to investigate Maximus’s low road employment practices.
WATCH THE PRESS CALL HERE: https://vimeo.com/883052713/14609e7a77
“It's unacceptable that workers who provide access to affordable healthcare under federal contracts not only lack affordable healthcare themselves, but too often face overwhelming medical debt," Stacey Abrams, whose roots in Mississippi inspired her to support Maximus workers in MS and across the South, said. “Maximus workers in Mississippi deserve to be treated with dignity in the workplace and the ability to take care of their families at home. Low wages and unaffordable health care have been the reality for generations of Black Americans across the South, including in the state where I grew up. As a product of Mississippi, I am proud to join the workers and CWA members to demand better treatment and wages from Maximus and to call for a federal investigation of Maximus’ labor practices. It is time we hold this company and all who receive taxpayer dollars to the highest possible standards.”
Maximus workers said they had no choice but to go on strike during the open enrollment period as their calls for livable wages and better working conditions go unanswered by the company, while unfair labor practices have continued. A new report finds that the overwhelming majority of Maximus workers rely on safety net programs due to low wages. Workers are also demanding the ability to organize their union free from employer intimidation.
READ THE FULL SURVEY HERE: https://cwa-union.org/sites/default/files/2023-10/20230114_1_800_bad_jobs.pdf
“I have been working at Maximus for the last nine years, struggling to support both my two children and myself,” said Katherine Charles, who has worked at Maximus CMS call center as a bilingual Obamacare agent since 2014. “I haven’t received a raise in two years, making it harder to pay my rent, which has only gone up. On top of that, I can’t even properly treat my own medical condition, which requires a doctor's visit every three months, because the medical bills are so high under our insurance. As we approach the busiest time of the year at the CMS call centers, we need to show Maximus that we won’t stand for its mistreatment. We’re putting down our headsets and striking for what’s right — the better working conditions, wages and medical coverage we deserve.”
“While the company makes millions for its shareholders and executives, I’ve gone without meals in order to make sure my kids have food on the table,” said Christina Jimenez, who is a Customer Service Representative at Maximus’s call center in Hattiesburg. “The healthcare Maximus offers is unaffordable. I have to pay over $100 for most doctors visits, which is way too much when you’re paid as little as we are. In February 2022, I was diagnosed with a condition that may be an early sign of cancer. I’m supposed to have screenings every one to two months, but I haven’t gone once because of the cost, and the difficulty getting time off and getting there without a car.”
Maximus has attempted to thwart workers’ efforts to improve their working conditions, at times resorting to illegal practices. Region 15 of the NLRB issued a complaint against Maximus for interfering with employee labor rights by summoning the police to stop employees from distributing information about the Union to coworkers. Maximus agreed to a settlement of this charge shortly after it was issued. Additional ULP charges regarding Maximus’s actions are currently pending. These include charges alleging the company laid off workers in retaliation for speaking out against racial disparities at Maximus and for supporting the union; offered laid-off employees severance agreements that illegally restricted employees’ right to speak publicly about their experiences on the job; threatened employees with layoff and worksite closure in connection with employee union activity; and offered workers a $200 bonus to pressure them not to participate in a planned strike in November 2022.
CWA has been calling for HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to investigate Maximus, pointing to how Maximus falls far short of the Biden administration’s commitments to advancing racial equity and using federal dollars to create good, family-sustaining jobs. As the largest federal call center contractor, Maximus has not aligned with Biden’s vision, coming under fire for complaints of low wages and minimal protections from abusive callers, union-busting, and unsafe working conditions. The union has also launched a digital ad campaign that is running in the DC area.
“Federal call center workers at Maximus have been organizing with CWA to fight for living wages, affordable healthcare, fair treatment and a voice on the job," said Claude Cummings, Jr., CWA President. "President Biden has made clear that he expects federal contractors like Maximus to provide good jobs. This survey proves that Maximus is offering nothing but bad jobs to the Black and Brown women who are the backbone of its federal call centers. Workers who help millions of Americans access healthcare but can’t afford to support their own families or go to the doctor, while the CEO and shareholders make hundreds of millions of dollars. Enough is enough. These workers don’t want to strike, disrupting services for millions of Americans, but they’ve been left with no other choice. CWA is ready to support these workers until they win justice.”
On the heels of Biden’s support of striking UAW workers, CWA says that the President must do the right thing and stand up for the workforce his own administration employs through a multi-billion dollar contract with Maximus.
Specifically, workers organizing with CWA are calling for the Biden Administration to:
- Raise wages at Maximus to $25 per hour, commensurate with what federal employees doing similar work are paid.
- To require Maximus to provide employees with affordable healthcare benefits.
- Investigate racial disparities and potential obstacles to equal employment opportunities at Maximus
- Investigate Maximus to ensure it is a responsible federal contractor.
A recent piece out in Capital and Main examines how the Biden Administration is giving a multibillion-dollar contract to low-road employer Maximus, and highlights the poor working conditions, low wages and union-busting efforts faced by workers.