VIDEO: Obamacare Call Center Workers Joined by CWA, NAACP Presidents, Rep. Thompson, & More for National Press Conference Calling on Federal Contractor Maximus to Raise Pay, Benefits and Respect Right to Organize
MISSISSIPPI – Earlier today, CWA President Claude Cummings Jr., NAACP President Derrick Johnson, Congressman Bennie Thompson, and Cassandra Welchlin, Executive Director of Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable and other allies joined Obamacare and Medicare call center workers who are employed by the federal government’s largest federal call center contractor, Maximus, to call on Maximus for affordable healthcare, a living wage of at least $25 per hour, and the freedom to organize a union free from employer intimidation.
Maximus operates the largest federally-contracted call centers in the country under a contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Maximus workers handle tens of millions of Obamacare/Affordable Care Act and Medicare calls under a $6.6 billion federal contract. These customer service agents are predominantly Black and Latina women, at ten call centers mostly located in the South.
“We are the reason Maximus has been awarded billions in federal contracts. We do important work that deserves a living wage,” said Sheree Collier, who has worked to handle calls for both the Medicare and ACA lines at Maximus for over five years. “We have real lives outside of the workplace and families that rely on what we bring home. None of these Maximus executives with their million-dollar paychecks can look us in the eyes and explain how our low wages are supposed to support an entire family. This is why I’m organizing with my co-workers to win our union and win justice.”
At the press conference, workers put Maximus on notice that they are prepared to go on strike during the open enrollment period unless Maximus addresses their demands.
“Like many other Maximus call center workers, I signed on to be a call center worker because I expected that doing work for a federal contractor would provide better pay, better benefits and conditions,” said Delilah Evans, a Maximus call center worker who handles Medicare calls. “Maximus even promised that their contract would boost our economy with better compensation for workers. But that is not the case. Maximus management has kept us in poverty with low wages and poor work conditions. We are fed up and we cannot allow important federal work to provide poverty wages. If they don't listen to our calls for better working conditions, we have no other choice but to prepare to go on strike.”
Maximus workers have been facing unacceptable labor practices for years including low pay, unaffordable health care, unfair layoffs, harsh attendance policies, and significant racial inequities within its workforce. These challenges become even more pressing during the open enrollment period, and particularly following recent layoffs affecting nearly 800 workers.
“At CWA, we know that when employers try to push workers up against the wall, that workers’ strongest power is to go on strike. CWA members have conducted several of the largest strikes in the United States in recent history that have led to meaningful improvements to workers’ lives. Maximus call center workers have been going on strike and speaking out about their poor working conditions like low wages, unaffordable health care, no career path, unfair and insulting policies, and surprise layoffs that throw families into crisis,” said CWA President Claude Cummings Jr. “Yet Maximus continues to treat its workers, who are largely Black and Latina women in the South, like they don’t matter, like they shouldn’t have a real voice on the job, like they’re disposable. That’s why we’re putting Maximus on notice. Workers are prepared to go on strike during the Medicare and Obamacare open enrollment period unless Maximus addresses their demands.”
In an editorial published last week in NewsOne, President Cummings Jr. and President Johnson highlighted the connections between the Maximus workers’ fight and the issues raised at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“The struggle of Maximus workers at call centers in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia is a continuation of the long-standing struggles against the economic inequality that has left Black communities underfunded and undervalued for centuries,” said Derrick Johnson, President of NAACP. “Maximus workers have been speaking out for a long time about the serious problems at this company, but the company has responded with silence, or fear and intimidation tactics, including retaliating against some union supporters, and even calling the police on workers engaged in union activity. NAACP calls on Maximus to meet workers’ demands, most importantly, to allow workers to organize free from fear and intimidation. And should Maximus workers decide it is necessary to go on strike, NAACP will stand with you.”
This upcoming affordable care act (ACA) open enrollment period will be critical for everyday Americans, just as millions of people have already lost their Medicaid coverage due to the unwinding of the COVID public health emergency.
“The services that you provide are critical to people throughout Mississippi and across the country. I am very concerned about the disruption that this labor dispute could cause to these services,” Rep. Bennie Thompson told the group of Maximus workers. “That said, sometimes disruption is the only option to stand up to injustice. If you decide you must strike during this year’s open enrollment period, you can count on my support then, and for as long as it takes to win justice.”
# # #