Call center workers fight back as hundreds of employees face layoffs

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One of the largest federally contracted call centers that supports Medicare and Medicaid Services is under fire for laying off hundreds of workers for the second time in six months. WMNF’s Josh Holton reports that workers and former employees protested today outside the Riverview location for Maximus.

Maximus is the latest call center criticized for low wages, short bathroom breaks, and mass layoffs. Steven McLeary is an entry-level customer service representative for Maximus, and makes about $17 an hour.

 “People at Medicaid and Social Security; they get paid $25 an hour and up. They do the same work, but we’re getting paid less. We’re getting these 6 minute bathroom breaks. It’s absolutely ridiculous. You can’t get to the bathroom that fast.”

And McLeary says that’s not enough to live on for some of his co-workers.

“There’s another woman that sits near me that has a few kids and she has to work two jobs. You’re working a federal job for the government working Medicare and you have to work two jobs? That’s absolutely ridiculous. That should never happen.”

Maximus workers staff call centers that handle Medicare and Affordable Care Act Marketplace calls. Friday will be the last day of employment for hundreds of these workers. Shelia Mills-Grady worked for Maximus as a quality monitor but was laid off.

“We’re here. You give us the tools to help families that call in need; what about us? We need those tools as well.”

But she says fear of retaliation from management is preventing employees from speaking up and organizing.

“When it comes time to do it, and they see management is watching, it’s more so, ‘I can’t afford to lose my job,’ or ‘I have my children.’ Like, everyone’s not able to get unemployment or it doesn’t come in right away. So that’s the biggest target: financial stability.”

Mills-Grady says that being laid off can throw families into financial crisis, threatening basic survival needs like housing, food, and health care. While Florida is a right-to-work state, Maximus has a federal contract and offices nationwide. This could make them the focus of a larger organizing effort as the Communications Workers of America plans to win better working conditions for employees. For WMNF News, I’m Josh Holton in Riverview.