With the spread of COVID-19 across the country, call center workers at Maximus who are organizing to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are demanding the company take immediate steps to protect their employees from COVID-19, including providing paid sick days without penalty and ensuring a safe workplace at every call center.
Maximus employs about 10,000 workers in 11 call centers across the country who handle Medicare and ACA Federally Facilitated Marketplace inquiries under a federal contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Maximus’ emergency attendance policy issued in response to the virus still will count excused COVID-19 absences as an unscheduled absence worth 8 hours — employees can only miss 64 hours in a 12-month period, or face termination.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has made clear that all companies should take steps to protect their workers and the public. Call center employees work in close conditions that can lead to outbreaks of infection. And despite Maximus posting guidelines on their website advising the public to avoid “close contact” and “stay home when you’re sick,” as well as advising that employees “clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces,” the company continues to require many of its call center employees to work in close conditions — at times even having to share desks and equipment.
The workers are outlining steps that Maximus should implement immediately to protect their call center employees, including:
Grant all employees — including those under voluntary or involuntary quarantine, or with signs of COVID-19 or influenza — full access to paid sick leave, and waive penalties associated with its use.
Grant all employees — including those under voluntary or involuntary quarantine, who have come into contact with or who have family members with signs of COVID-19 or influenza — full access to paid sick leave and waive penalties associated with its use.
Continue health insurance coverage for all employees regardless of absences associated with voluntary or involuntary quarantine.
Assure that those who need to miss work due to illness or because a family member is ill will not lose their jobs due to attendance.
Fully stock EPA-registered disinfectant wipes for employees to wipe down phones and workspaces.
In areas where schools are closed allow for paid absences to ensure the children of employees are safe and protected during this pandemic — and waive any penalties associated with such absences.
Maximus call center employees are calling on CEO Bruce Caswell and head of their Federal Services division Thomas Romeo to meet with their organizing committee and representatives from CWA to discuss the inadequacy of the company’s response so far. If Maximus fails to take adequate action, then President Trump and HHS Secretary Azar should mandate that federal contractors--especially those employing call center workers for HHS--immediately adopt the policies outlined above during this pandemic and time of crisis for the American people.
Since Maximus instituted a new, restrictive attendance policy in 2019 allowing the company to terminate employees for missing 64 hours in a 12- month span, nearly 1,000 Maximus workers have signed a petition calling on the company to institute a fair attendance policy. With the COVID-19 pandemic and Maximus’ inadequate response, these demands have become even more urgent.
“Maximus is putting the safety of its workers and our families in jeopardy right now due to its failure to institute what I believe to be a reasonable attendance policy and paid sick leave,” said Anna Flemmings, a Hattiesburg, MS Customer Service Representative. “We want a clear answer from Maximus management regarding attendance and an assurance that our jobs will be secure if we need to miss work due to the coronavirus. Maximus needs to stop penalizing us for absences if we are ill and encourage us to stay home if we’ve been in contact with someone who we believe might be sick.”
“If I don’t work a minimum of 30 hour hours each week, according to Maximus’ policies, I’ll lose my insurance,” said Cassie Ludwig, who works as a Quality Monitor at the Maximus call center in London, Kentucky. “I got a schedule change because the schools in our area are closed due to COVID-19, but if I don’t work the minimum hours and fall ill, I won’t be able to afford treatment.”
Maximus is a giant government contractor specializing in running outsourced administrative services for federal and state government agencies, primarily in the fields of health and human services. It is the largest provider of contact center services to the federal government, and the largest provider of Medicaid administrative services to state governments.
Maximus’ poor treatment of its workers has been drawing attention from local and national media. The New York Magazine recently broke a story about Maximus’ national anti-union campaign, revealing the crux of a larger problem at the company: most Maximus workers are paid low wages, and many can’t even afford prescriptions and necessary procedures; a “uniquely American irony” for health care administrative workers, as NYMag put it.
Earlier this month, community leaders in Hattiesburg MS, including City Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, delivered a letter to Krislyn King, Site Manager at Maximus' call center in Hattiesburg. The letter expressed concerns about workers’ allegations of wage theft at the call center and called out the company's anti-union campaign, which made national news in a recent Mother Jones piece. The letter was published several days later as a full-page ad in the Hattiesburg American.