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CWA strikers

Call center workers employed by the federal contractor Maximus went on strike March 23, 2022 in Louisiana and Mississippi. (Photo: CWA/Twitter)

Bernie Sanders Backs Federally Contracted Call Center Workers on Strike

"We should not allow greedy corporations to privatize public services or profit from robbing workers of fair pay and benefits."

Jessica Corbett

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders joined other labor rights advocates Wednesday in supporting workers at a pair of Maximus call centers in Louisiana and Mississippi who are on strike to demand livable wages, paid sick leave, and freedom to organize a union without interference from the federal contractor.

"I stand in solidarity with Maximus workers walking out of federal call centers across the country today," tweeted Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee. "To my mind, we should not allow greedy corporations to privatize public services or profit from robbing workers of fair pay and benefits."

The Center for Popular Democracy Action, Democratic Socialists of America, the Teamsters, and UNITE HERE were among the organizations that expressed solidarity with what Communications Workers of America (CWA) called "the first-ever strike of federally contracted call center workers."

Also noting the historic nature of the action, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) applauded the Black women leading the strike in Bogalusa, Louisiana, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

CWA tweeted photos of workers in red shirts that said "Organize," sharing updates with the hashtag #MaximusStrike, which is also being used by strikers and supporters.

The Advocate—based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—reported that the Maximus employees "are carrying out the strike on the anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law," noting that the state's call center "handles questions about healthcare under a $5.5 billion contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services."

Mya Harris, who works in the internal support group at the Bogalusa call center, told the newspaper that "we need these basic improvements to our working conditions for ourselves and our families because no one working for a multibillion-dollar corporation like Maximus should have to worry about how they're going to make ends meet."

While Maximus set the minimum wage for call center workers at $15 an hour last year, Harris said that "these pay raises are still not enough." She pointed out that some federal workers with similar jobs make $60,000 a year—or nearly $29 an hour—and that "gas is almost off the chart; food, housing, insurance have all gone up."

While call center workers "are paid dramatically less than federal employees who do similar work... Maximus CEO Bruce Caswell's total compensation for 2021 was $7,906,006 or 208 times more than the median Maximus worker," according to a petition supporting the strike. "For a company that generates its money from federal tax dollars, this is not only unfair, it is immoral."

"Many workers at the Maximus facilities in Hattiesburg and Bogalusa receive no paid sick leave," states the document, which is directed at company management. "It is unacceptable at any time, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic, to leave workers without pay when they get sick or need to care for a family member."

The petition, which also accuses Maximus of "waging an aggressive anti-union campaign," urges the company to meet with workers who went on strike "to discuss these important workplace issues and support their demands of pay parity with other federal call center workers, provide 10 paid sick days, and stop interfering with the rights of these workers to organize a union."

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