Workers at call centers serving Medicare stage two-day strike
Maximus striking workers | Call Center Workers United Facebook page

HATTIESBURG, Miss.—Imagine driving to a job for an hour and a half where your hourly starting pay was $9.05—and it didn’t rise to $15 until Democratic President Joe Biden stepped in last year with an executive order mandating such an increase.

Also imagine, that on those same small paychecks, in union-hostile Southern states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, your bosses at a call center raised your out-of-pocket deductible for your own health insurance to $4,500 a year ($5,000 for families).

It took “protected concerted action”—not a strike, at that time–by you and thousands of your colleagues to force them to cut the deductible—to $2,500.

And that sum was on top of $1,000 in yearly premiums, a union report adds.

Those are just some of the ways the 10,000 workers toiling at call centers from coast to coast are exploited by their federal contractor, Maximus.

No wonder they want to unionize with the Communications Workers—and staged a two-day strike May 23-24, in some cases virtual and others actual, demanding union recognition and much higher pay, worker La Keisha Preston told a Poor People’s Campaign rally in Memphis, Tenn.

The workers, most of them women of color, have been battling Maximus for recognition, and against its exploitation for several years, even as they handle phone calls from clients of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. CWA’s files include past reports on the conditions at call centers in Hattiesburg, Miss., where Preston toils, Bogalusa, La., Phoenix, Brownsville, Texas, Lawrence, Ky., and Tampa, Fla.

The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services hired Maximus. It has more call center workers than CMMS has staffers (6,100), who are regular full-time federal employees—and who get paid more than $15 hourly. Most of them are white men, most of them are supervisors and yearly pay can be in the six figures each, CWA reports. Maximus CEO Bruce Caswell’s total compensation in 2021 was $7.906 million, it adds.

Actual picket lines went up at the two largest call centers, Bogalusa and Hattiesburg.. Elsewhere saw walkouts, but without picketing. The Maximus workers also drew supportive videos from Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., a former Service Employees organizer and AFL-CIO Deputy Organizing Director.

Maximus kept lowballing its workers’ pay until early in 2021 when Biden stepped in with an executive order mandating that all federal contractors pay their workers at least %15 an hour, in line with the “$15 and a union” demand by low-wage workers nationwide.

“I’m going on strike for a living wage and affordable healthcare at Maximus,” Bogalusa worker Mya Harris told CWA “We need these basic improvements to our working conditions for ourselves and our families because no one working for a multi-billion dollar corporation like Maximus should have to worry about how they’re going to make ends meet.”

Maximus has also responded with union-busting and with defying President Biden’s mandate that the federal government, and the contractors it hires, be neutral in organizing drives, not use federal cash for union-busting and in 68 other specific ways, treat workers with respect—and respect their right to organize.


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.