On the rainy morning of May 23, Maximus Call Center workers gathered to hold their second strike this year since March to demand affordable health care and higher wages — a union effort that has been ongoing since 2017.
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined in solidarity with striking Communication Workers of America Maximus Call Center workers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and in Bogalusa, Louisiana.
In Hattiesburg, as striking workers gathered at the front of the Maximus building, workers who were previously afraid to strike came out to join the strike after seeing their fellow workers standing boldly to demand better wages and treatment.
Later, the strike line moved into the parking lot toward the street, and solidarity from the community was substantial with people honking horns and waving enthusiastically while driving by.
In Bogalusa, workers walked out as well despite heavy workplace repression. Workers who walked out saw police outside as well as security guards. Despite this, the second strike had even higher turnout than the first.
On May 24, CWA organized a virtual town hall, which included testimonies of workers’ experiences at Maximus. There were also words of support from politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Congressman Andy Levin.
The town hall was filled with workers’ testimonies of unfair treatment and increasingly unlivable wages as inflation rises.
Maximus worker, Deondra Bridges, said to Liberation News, “We’re already not getting enough money to get to work and gas is just going up. Not even just gas: Milk, eggs, everything is just going up. So that’s going up, but our wages are not going up.”
According to a recent survey, 45% of Mississippians reported difficulty paying usual household expenses, compared to the national average of 33%. This reality is made worse by the high deductible that Maximus workers are forced to pay before being able to access their health care benefits. The deductible, which was originally $4,500, is now $2,500 after workers fought for it to be reduced. But this reduced health care is out of reach for many workers.
Workers often end up working more than 40 hours a week trying to meet the outrageous deductible. This is the experience of Yasmin Johnson, one of many striking workers that Liberation News spoke with. Johnson said, “I’m a single mom, I have a child with a disability. It’s hard to get her to the doctors with the insurance that they provide for us … it’s impossible. We have to do overtime on top of overtime.”
Call center workers are being denied what they are worth because of the unfair labor practices of Maximus, a federal contractor whose employees answer Affordable Care Act and Medicare marketplace lines. Despite working complicated, skilled jobs, Maximus workers are making unlivable wages.
Angela Magee, a customer service representative in Bogalusa said, “I call them bottom-feeders because that’s how they pay us. Because without us, it [the company] wouldn’t even work.”
These unjust conditions are what motivated many workers to strike. For many of the workers, it was their first time going on strike against Maximus. The organizing efforts and wins of the union in the past have given workers the confidence to cut through the fear and suppression.
The message sent by call center workers on strike echoes throughout the South. Katrina Jefferson, who went on strike for the first time had this advice for workers everywhere:
“I think they should definitely raise their voices, speak up, because at one time, I didn’t want to get involved because of the way I thought I would be retaliated on. But I do understand it is the law that we are able to do this and speak [up] so we can improve the conditions.”