As Maximus continues to take inadequate precautions to protect its employees at large federally contracted call centers, the workers who are organizing to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are calling on Maximus CEO Bruce Caswell and senior leadership to immediately meet (via video) with their organizing committee to address the safety precautions the company must take to protect its workers, their families, and our communities from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maximus employs about 10,000 workers in 11 call centers in nine states who handle Medicare and ACA Federally Facilitated Marketplace inquiries under a federal contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Due to the large numbers of employees working in close proximity at these call centers, employees are concerned about transmission of COVID-19 at work.
The workers are demanding that the company take immediate steps to allow their call center workers the option of working from home and if they cannot, the option of taking emergency paid leave while keeping their insurance coverage. This leave should be extended to anyone who has been diagnosed or exposed to coronavirus or anyone who would be at high risk if they contracted it, or who needs to take leave to care for a dependent. The paid leave should not be contingent on requiring any medical documentation that proves a worker has been infected with the coronavirus, given the lack of testing available and an increasingly overloaded healthcare system. When closures have been publicly announced in a community, Maximus should not require its workers to bring in proof of school closures. The Maximus call center workers also demand that any incentive pay given for working during this pandemic not be contingent on meeting a threshold of hours worked -- workers who are risking their lives by coming to the call center may fall ill while doing so, and should be compensated for taking that risk.
“While Maximus on Wednesday started making efforts to space workers in the Bogalusa, LA call center where I work two seats apart, it’s not enough. We shouldn’t have to put our families, ourselves, and our communities at risk by coming to work. If the Social Security Administration can work from home, so can we!” said Sylvia Walker from Louisiana.
“With these critical health and safety concerns, it’s more important than ever that workers have a voice at Maximus -- and that the company have an open dialogue with those demanding that voice,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “Refusing to engage in dialogue with workers is always bad policy, but especially bad policy during a pandemic. The lack of communication puts people at unnecessary risk. Maximus needs to meet with the workers' organizing committee and discuss policies that will keep workers, their families, and their communities safe.”
Jamie Brown from Maximus’ Hattiesburg, MS site reports that workers have been asked to provide children’s birth certificates and proof of school closures to access the childcare leave Maximus states that it is offering all of its call center employees.
In an In These Times piece published this week, Maximus workers shared their stories about Maximus’ inadequate response to the pandemic.
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.
Last 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.