Chester: Maximus call center workers go on strike, picket in four states

Maximus call center workers on strike in Chester, Va. on June 5, 2023.

CHESTER — This morning, call center workers at Maximus, the federal government’s largest call center contractor, went on strike. They gathered outside the local Maximus call center in Chester as well as in Hattiesburg, Miss., Bogalusa, La. and Tampa, Fla.

Just before noon, a baker's dozen of Maximus workers on strike since 8 a.m. in Chester, were busy packing up their signs, table, etc. They had positioned themselves in the shade across the street from Maximus's parking lot.

Willow Emerson, Campaign Lead Organizer with Communications Workers of America (CWA), announced it was time to eat lunch. CWA is the largest communications and media labor union in the United States, representing about 700,000 members in both the private and public sectors.

Maximus, Chester, Va.

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.

"This is a critical period for affordable care act (ACA) enrollment, just as millions of Americans may be pushed off of Medicaid and will need help maintaining their health coverage through the federal marketplace that is staffed by the call center workers at Maximus," the press release stated. "Florida houses the largest number of Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollees and second largest number of Medicare beneficiaries, who are served by Maximus’ call centers."

Maximus call center employee James Weir of Richmond on strike in Chester, Va.

Workers will be calling for $25 per hour, opportunities for career advancement and protection from unfair layoffs, after more than 700 workers across Maximus’ call center facilities were laid off last month – Maximus’ second round of widespread  layoffs this year.

The press release stated the starting pay at Maximus is still as low as $16.20, the minimum allowed by current law. According to Maximus's website, the base rate for customer service representatives/employees in Chester starts at $17.11/hour and potential bonuses may be earned for attendance and referrals.

Maximus call center employee Christopher Carty of Chester on strike in Chester, Va.

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Maximus workers organizing with CWA, will also call on HHS Secretary Becerra to investigate Maximus’ labor practices on the heels of revelations of stark racial disparities in Maximus’s workforce, particularly for Black and Latina women working in its call centers.

“I was laid off two days before Mother's Day, along with 700 of my co-workers, despite my great performance record,” Daija Arrington, who worked at Maximus, handling calls for the CDC for three years, said. “I believe the real reason I was laid off was in retaliation for speaking out about Maximus’ working conditions and to scare my co-workers from supporting a union. But we have a right to speak out and tell the truth and to organize to improve our working conditions. That’s why we’re calling on HHS to hold Maximus accountable for mistreating workers, help us keep our jobs and make sure we’re paid the fair wages we deserve.”

The CWA filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges last week against Maximus alleging that Maximus laid off some workers in retaliation for speaking out about their working conditions, and offered workers unlawful severance agreements, according to the press release.

The Maximus call center in Chester is located at 12730 Kingston Ave.

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This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Maximus call center workers go on strike after 700 employees laid off