Hattiesburg, MS – Today, hundreds of General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) workers rallied outside their call center against poverty level wages, calling for fair pay and a union. About 2,000 federally contracted customer service professionals work at the Hattiesburg call center. Most handle inquiries from Americans across the country about Medicare and the Affordable Care Act’s Federal Insurance Marketplace.
The rally coincides with the release of a new report by Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. The report, titled “Strengthening Families and the Hattiesburg Economy: The Impacts of Improved Pay for Federally Contracted Call Center Workers,” shows that better pay at the call center would inject millions of dollars into the local economy and help create hundreds of new jobs in the region.
Under federal law, once GDIT workers collectively bargain better wages and benefits, the federal government unlocks funds to cover these improvements for the workers—at no cost to the company. But GDIT has sought to block these funds from reaching the Hattiesburg community by launching an aggressive campaign to discourage workers from coming together in a union after they began organizing with the Communications Workers of America.
Despite the vital services they provide helping Americans get access to health care, most GDIT customer service professionals in Hattiesburg make only $10.35 per hour.
"We deserve better than the poverty wages we are paid. Every day it’s a choice about what types of sacrifices we have to make,” said Anna Flemmings, a Tier 1 Medicare agent at the call center. “And it breaks my heart to constantly have to tell my son ‘no’ when he asks for something because we can’t afford anything but the bare necessities."
Due to these poverty level wages, many employees at the call center are forced to rely on public assistance and still struggle to scrape by. And since this workforce is predominately black and female, such low wages contribute to the region’s racial and gender income disparity.
"No one working full-time providing essential services to Americans and doing complex and critical work for a federal contractor should be living in poverty,” said Tracy Wolverton, a trainer at the call center. “Higher pay at the Hattiesburg call center would also mean more funding for our schools, more spending at local businesses, and economic growth in our communities."
Earlier this month, it was announced that GDIT is selling its call center operations, including its Hattiesburg call center, to Maximus, Inc. Maximus has informed the Hattiesburg call center workers that it intends to continue paying them the same poverty level wages as GDIT.