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Tysons federal contractor faces worker protests over wages, health care benefits

Workers for the federal contractor that runs call centers for Medicaid, Medicare, and other services took their fight for better wages, benefits and work conditions to the streets of Tysons last week, garnering some honks of support from passing drivers.

Over two dozen Maximus employees marched from Tysons Galleria to the company’s new corporate headquarters at 1600 Tysons Blvd on Friday (June 17) to deliver a petition calling for livable wages and affordable health care.

Garnering 11,853 signatures, the petition also expresses support for workers at call centers in Mississippi and Louisiana who organized strikes this spring as part of an ongoing campaign to unionize with the Communications Workers of America.

“A lot of these folks are just asking for living wages,” said Christian Ohuabunwa, who helps process disability benefits for veterans at a call center in Houston, Texas. “We’re asking for affordable health care benefits, that you don’t have to decide between eating and sending your kid to the hospital. We’re asking that they truly listen to us and try and make some changes.”

Previously based at Reston Station, Maximus employs 37,000 people and commands $4.25 billion in revenue, according to its website. In early May, the contractor reported $1.18 billion in revenue for the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, a 22.7% increase over the previous year.

Maximus told investors that growth in its federal services segment was driven by “expected contributions” from recent acquisitions, including a $1.4 billion deal for Veteran Evaluation Services Inc. (VES) that closed in June 2021.

Ohuabunwa started working for VES in 2018 and says he “felt a sense of camaraderie” in the company, which he notes was veteran-owned.

That changed when Maximus took over. On top of paying a $6,000 deductible under the company’s health care plan, Ohuabunwa says his frustrations include a lack of communication between leaders and employees and the elimination of incentives to process questionnaires that determine whether a veteran qualifies for benefits faster.

“Now that Maximus has taken over, there’s now a backlog of cases,” he told FFXnow. “Prior to this, we did not have that, because people were enthusiastic about what they did, so work got done. Now, there’s no encouragement for you to go that extra step.”

Maximus says it continues “to look for ways to improve health benefit coverage and affordability,” noting that the deductible for its free individual coverage plan dropped from $4,500 to $2,500 in April.

However, the company says efforts to improve employee wages and benefits are limited by “outdated provisions” of the Service Contract Act, which sets pay requirements for federal contractors.

“Maximus is committed to providing fair and competitive wages and benefits to our employees across all of our locations as allowed by our contracts,” Maximus Vice President of Public Relations and Communications Eileen Rivera said. “…Maximus supports several efforts, including urging Congress and the Biden Administration to modernize the SCA for the benefit of federal contract workers across the nation.”

According to the CWA, Maximus has approximately 10,000 workers across 10 call centers in eight states under its contract for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has used the company for more than 30 years to enroll people in health insurance plans and provide other customer services.

Rhoda Bridges, who works remotely for a CMS call center in Louisiana, says pressure from CWA got Maximus to increase its wages to about $12 an hour, but she believes a fair wage would be at least $20 an hour.

Bridges became involved in the unionizing effort after being disciplined for taking too long on a call where she was struggling with technical difficulties, she told FFXnow. She hopes a union would lead to better wages and working conditions, describing the current environment as “toxic” with few options for addressing complaints against supervisors beyond an ethics line that’s run by the same company.

“The consumer, sometimes, they’re rude and you got to deal with them, and then your work environment is not showing you any comfort or support,” Bridges said. “It makes your job more complicated and complex than if your job was like, ‘OK, how can we help you?'”

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