Camille Wade says that just minutes after she was verbally abused by a caller who dialed in to enroll in a healthcare plan, she had to be ready to take the next caller.
She said she had no time to collect her thoughts or her notes after being cursed at and called a racial slur.“We hardly have any time in between calls to place our notes and it just can be really frustrating as we get a lot of abusive callers,” she tells ESSENCE. “I get a lot of abusive callers, especially within the supervisor level,” she says.
The 31-year-old who has worked at a Maximus call center in Bogalusa, Louisiana for eight years, handles calls for Medicare and the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance marketplace. She says the federal contractor offers no strategies for preventing inappropriate behavior or abuse from customers and fears losing her job if she disconnects a call, so instead she has endured it.
“They look for fault within us to try to hold us accountable in order to put us on the chopping block of losing our job. It’s like if we don’t put up with it, we will get fired,” she tells ESSENCE.
Maximus, which is headquartered in Tysons Corner, Virginia, employs one of the largest federally contracted workforces in the country. The company reports an annual revenue of $4.25 billion and has 37,000 employees globally. According to a release about the strike, a majority of Maximus workers across the U.S. locations are women and people of color.
Wade is one of the hundreds of employees who walked off the job on November 1 at call centers in Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia, marking the first day of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. They want more time between calls, meaningful protection from abusive callers and a minimum wage of $25 an hour.
In a statement issued to ESSENCE, Maximus says the company “respects the dignity and wellbeing of our employees. While we haven’t seen evidence of a growing trend in abusive or obscene calls, we have a very clear standard operating procedure to protect our employees when we occasionally receive such calls.” Additionally, the company says, “Maximus welcomes the opportunity to work directly with our employees and discuss and hopefully resolve their concerns.”
However, two weeks after the strike, call center workers who organized with the help from the labor union, Communications Workers of America (CWA), say Maximus has not pledged to meet any of the workers’ demands or meet with members of the organizing committee.
“I just feel like they don’t care. It upsets me, but I just keep going a day at a time because I believe we will eventually get what we deserve,” says Audrianna Lewis, who has worked at a Maximus call center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for close to two years.
Lewis says that in addition to improved wages and working conditions, employees want better benefits. “Our medical is not great. It’s not great at all, but we are fighting…especially because we help people across the county get health insurance at affordable costs and ours is not even affordable,” she says.
Maximus also shared improvements made over the past several years including “improved pay and compensation, reduced employees’ out-of-pocket health care expenses and improved work processes and safety. We continue to look for ways to assure that Maximus is an employer of choice,” says the company’s statement to ESSENCE.
Lewis acknowledges that deductibles for company employees have gone down from $4,500 to $2,500 after previous demonstrations, but says that it’s still not enough for the average worker who makes $15 an hour.
According to CWA, nearly 500 employees at four call centers went on strike. Maximus said that fewer than 200 employees participated. Following the strike, The CWA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Maximus, claiming the company “interfered with employees’ right to strike by offering bonuses up to $200 to workers who came to work on November 1st instead of participating in the strike.”
In an email reportedly sent by Maximus, employees were sent information about an “exciting bonus boost opportunity November 1” where employees could “earn extra bonus boost points for working their regularly scheduled shift on Tuesday, November 1” just one day after Maximus workers announced that they were going on strike on November 1st.
“Of course that affected who came out… But, we’re gonna keep doing what we’re doing. We’re gonna continue to organize,” says Lewis.