MCLEAN, Va. — Communications Workers of America filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming Maximus Inc., a federally contracted company that services phone lines for Medicare and the Affordable Care Act marketplace, engaged in unfair practices after workers staged strikes last week at several call centers.
On Aug. 8, workers at Maximus call centers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia staged walkouts to protest attendance and break policies. On Aug. 18, CWA announced it filed two charges with the NLRB, alleging that Maximus disciplined and intimidated employees participating in the strike. CWA represents public and private sector workers in 1,200 local unions.
One charge claims an employee was disciplined in “in retaliation for his participation in protected concerted activities” in Chester, Virginia. The charge also alleges that management summoned police, which the charge claims interfered with the lawful worker action.
The Chesterfield County Police Department confirmed officers were called to the worksite address on the morning of Aug. 8. No arrests were made.
Company spokesperson Eileen Rivera said in an email that several demonstrators who are not employed by Maximus were disrupting entry to the call center and were asked twice to leave the property and move to an appropriate area so as not to be trespassing. When they refused, police were called, she said.
“None of the fewer than half dozen Maximus employees who participated in the picketing at the Chester facility have been disciplined,” she said. “All remain employed at the call center.”
A second charge filed in connection with the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, worksite alleged that employees were required “to listen to employer speech urging employees to reject union representation.”
“Management has historically required employees to sit through anti-union presentations, an intimidation tactic that interferes with and discourages employees from exercising their right to unionize,” the CWA press release said.
“The allegation of a company-sanctioned presentation at any of our call centers related to union activity is false,” Rivera said.
Maximus, headquartered in Tysons, Virginia, employs about 37,000 workers worldwide. Workers have been organizing to form a union over the last few months and have been protesting for higher wages and lower healthcare deductibles, in addition to recently calling out certain attendance and break policies at the strikes.
“Especially with the pandemic, I don’t really feel like we’re valued up there,” said Hayley Jefcoat, a worker at the Hattiesburg call center, in June. “I felt like we’re just a number. And someone can take our place at any minute in time.”
Jefcoat told Federal Times that she took part in the strikes this month.
Are wages keeping up with inflation?
Maximus has taken steps to address worker concerns, it has said. In 2021, President Joe Biden announced the $15 minimum wage for 300,000 employees of federal contractors, which the company honored.
In April, Maximus lowered insurance deductibles to $2,500 from $4,500. It has also provided employees with paid time off as required by Executive Order 13706.
As many employees are calling for livable — not just minimum — wages, the company said its hands are tied in increasing wages because of the way it operates under the Service Contract Act.
“The contractor may pay its employees more than the minimums established, but would need to reduce costs elsewhere or request additional funding from CMS, as it did last year when wages were increased to $15 per hour,” said a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Still, workers claim that updated wages and benefits have not gone far enough in addressing inflation.
“We always welcome the opportunity to engage directly with our employees and work together to resolve their concerns, while respecting our employees’ legal right to attempt to organize,” said Maximus’ Rivera in a statement to Federal Times.
“Just like many other people in America, we are still struggling, even with the pay that we’re getting,” said Jefcoat.
More than half of all unfair labor practice charges are withdrawn or dismissed. Charges received by NLRB have been decreasing since 2016.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.