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Tysons contractor faces unfair labor charge over call center worker layoffs

Maximus call center workers organized under the Communications Workers of America protest outside the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in D.C. (courtesy CWA)

A union representing Maximus call center workers filed unfair labor practices charges against the Tysons-headquartered contractor this week.

In charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday and Wednesday (May 23 and 24), the Communications Workers of America alleges that the government services company, which operates call centers for Medicaid and Medicare, has retaliated against employees and illegally tried to discourage them from unionizing.

The CWA says it filed the complaints because Maximus is laying off more than 700 call center workers this month who handle customer service for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

At a protest organized by Call Center Workers United, which is part of the CWA, a worker who handled calls for the CDC for three years said yesterday (Thursday) that he was laid off two days before Mother’s Day despite having a “great performance record with no discipline.”

“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,” Daija Arrington said at the rally in D.C. outside the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates both CMS and the CDC.

According to the charge sheet, Maximus violated federal labor laws in April and May by retaliating against employees involved in union activities by laying them off, threatening them with layoffs or worksite closures and offering severance agreements with conditions limiting their ability to talk about their experiences with the company.

The CWA also alleges that Maximus made “implied promises of benefits” to employees and forced them to attend a meeting to discourage them from unionizing.

Though the charge is tied to a call center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which has served as an organizing base for the union, the recent layoffs have affected employees across the company’s 10 centers, most of which are in the South, according to the CWA.

Another 143 workers at the Hattiesburg call center were reportedly laid off in January.

When contacted for comment by FFXnow, Maximus said that “the allegations were just made available to us,” but it is “confident that the company complied with all applicable labor requirements.”

“Given the lack of specific detail, including dates of alleged occurrence and names of workers, we are unable to respond directly to the allegations,” Maximus said in a statement. “We pride ourselves in complying with applicable labor laws across all our operations and will cooperate fully with any request from the National Labor Relations Board.”

The labor charges represent the latest turn in an ongoing battle between Maximus and its workers, who have been calling for wage increases to $25 per hour, improved working conditions and better benefits — particularly when it comes to health care costs.

The CWA and other labor and civil rights groups also sent a letter to the Labor Department and released a report in March alleging systemic racism and sexism in how Maximus hires and promotes workers. The coalition urged the Biden administration to investigate the company, a demand reiterated at yesterday’s protest.

“Maximus workers deserve to be rewarded for their hard work, not treated like they’re disposable and they don’t matter,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi). “It is imperative that HHS ensures that Maximus provides good jobs with living wages, and workers don’t have to face unfair and unnecessary layoffs.”

Founded in 1979, Maximus has more than 39,000 employees and draws $4.25 billion in annual revenue, according to its website. Its call centers handle over 7 million calls a month, including ones to assist people enrolling in Medicaid and Affordable Care Act insurance plans.

The contractor announced last week that it has been enlisted by the Internal Revenue Service for a $2.6 billion effort to modernize the tax agency’s computer systems.