In the year 2023, the United States witnessed a wave of labor strikes as workers across various industries stood up for better wages and improved working conditions. Among these striking workers are the call center agents responsible for handling inquiries related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicare. These workers are employed by Maximus, the federal government’s largest call center contractor. This article delves into the ongoing strike by ACA and Medicare call center workers, highlighting their demands for affordable healthcare, increased wages, job security, and the right to form a union without fear of reprisals.
The Struggle for Fair Wages and Affordable Healthcare
For many employees like Katherine Charles, a single mother of two, the strike was long overdue. Charles has dedicated nearly a decade of her life to working for Maximus, assisting Americans in navigating the complexities of the ACA marketplace. However, despite her years of service, she finds herself unable to afford basic necessities or even routine medical check-ups. Charles and her fellow workers are not seeking to amass wealth; instead, they are advocating for an income that can support their families, allowing them to afford rent and groceries without relying on government assistance.
A survey conducted by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) reveals the harsh reality faced by Maximus workers. Over 90% of the workforce earns less than $19 per hour, with some earning as low as $16.20 per hour, depending on the state. These meager wages are inadequate to meet the basic needs of employees, let alone provide them with the financial stability they deserve.
The Cost of Inadequate Healthcare
One of the most pressing issues for Maximus workers is the high cost of healthcare. Under Maximus’ high deductible health plan, employees like Katherine Charles are required to pay $2,000 before their insurance begins to cover medical expenses. As a result, many workers have been forced to postpone or forgo necessary medical treatment, despite assisting countless Americans in obtaining healthcare coverage with low deductibles and co-pays. This disparity between the service they provide and the benefits they receive is both tragic and ironic.
The Quest for Unionization
Maximus call center workers have been striving to form a union for several years, but their efforts have been met with resistance. The CWA has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against Maximus for its attempts to thwart unionization. These tactics include offering bonuses to non-striking employees, blocking access to union members, threatening to close call centers, and even involving the police in labor disputes. Workers have faced layoffs and intimidation for exercising their legal right to organize, a situation that underscores the need for protections against unfair layoffs.
CEO Compensation vs. Worker Struggles
While Maximus has seen substantial growth, with its revenue doubling over the past five years, workers argue that they have not been adequately compensated. The company’s CEO, Bruce Caswell, earned $6.3 million in the previous year, a staggering 161 times greater than the average salary within the company. This vast income inequality stands in stark contrast to the financial hardships faced by the frontline workers who bear the brunt of the company’s operations.
The strike by ACA and Medicare call center workers employed by Maximus highlights the urgent need for fair wages, affordable healthcare, and the right to form a union without fear of retaliation. These workers, who play a crucial role in helping millions of Americans access healthcare, deserve better treatment and job security. The ongoing strike serves as a reminder that even in the face of adversity and intimidation, workers are willing to stand up for their rights and the betterment of their families and communities. It is a call for fairness and justice in the workplace, and it’s a fight that deserves our attention and support.