Call center workers and union leaders arrested in Washington D.C.
Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush backed call center workers at Washing D.C. protest | YouTube screenshot

WASHINGTON—A one-day strike which closed two call centers didn’t work. Hand-delivering a report on federal contractor Maximus’s abuses of its female workers of color to the top Biden official who has power over the pact and the company didn’t work.

So the workers, who are trying to unionize with the Communications Workers for a living wage at their call centers for Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare clients, went one step further.

With allies, on Dec. 12, they staged a peaceful civil disobedience sit-in here in front of the offices of the Department of Health and Human Services and got themselves arrested on December 12.

The workers toil for Maximus, the top contractor for HHS whose call centers handle people seeking health care. But their pay is so low that they can’t even afford health care for themselves or their kids.

Biden administration HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has the power to step in and order the firm to pay the workers a living wage of $25 per hour, just as President Joe Biden has ordered for all federal contractors.

The company can afford to pay more since the firm’s boss, Bruce Caswell, earned more than $6 million last year. Maximus has a nine-year, $6.6 billion federal contract to run the dozen call centers which employ the 10,000 call center workers Maximus and its subcontractors employ.

Caswell has ignored and defied the workers and Becerra has done virtually nothing—other than accept a copy of CWA’s expose of the firm’s abuses– since the protests began. Thus the sit-in and arrests at HHS’s offices.

The pay is so low that even in low-wage Hattiesburg, Miss., the site of one of the biggest centers, and one of two shut by the one-day strike earlier this year, Maximus itself is urging workers to collect clothing and toys for needy fellow workers.

Maximus “call center workers have been fighting for living wages, affordable healthcare, fair treatment, and a voice on the job for over seven years. They have written letters, they have walked out on strike, and they have joined together to demand change,” said CWA President Claude Cummings, arrested for peaceful civil disobedience, along with union Secretary-Treasurer Ameenah Salaam, Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry and four Democratic lawmakers.

“President Biden has made clear he expects federal contractors like Maximus to provide good jobs, but Maximus’ management has turned its back on the Black and Brown women who are the heart of its federal call centers. Workers who help millions of Americans access healthcare can’t even afford to support their own families or go to the doctor, while Maximus’ CEO and shareholders make hundreds of millions of dollars. Enough is enough.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.