Bogalusa workers to join labor strike at federal call centers in 3 states

Strike to include Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia

By: - August 5, 2022 9:42 pm
Maximus call center workers picket with signs in Hattieburg

Maximus call center workers in Hattiesburg picket during a previous strike. They are organizing another demonstration Monday, Aug. 8, in Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia. (Photo courtesy of CWA)

Frustrated workers at Maximus, the nation’s largest federal call center contractor, plan to go on strike Monday at three of the company’s largest locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia, to protest what they say are poor working conditions and unsafe COVID-19 policies.

The call center workers, who handle the toll-free lines for the Medicare and Affordable Care Act federally facilitated marketplace, as well as the Centers for Disease Control’s 1-800-CDC-INFO line, are protesting harsh bathroom break and attendance policies amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a news release.

Workers risk discipline or shame for taking bathroom breaks, which can be no longer than six minutes, said Jennifer Dundit, who answers the CDC’s toll free line at a call center Hattiesburg, Miss. This is disputed by Maximus’ corporate headquarters.

The strike will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. outside the call centers, including one located in Bogalusa., which employs over 600 people. The overwhelming majority of the call center workers are females of color, the press release said.

A previous strike in March came from workers in Bogalusa and Hattiesburg demanding fair pay and the chance to form a union. Since then, they have organized with Call Center Workers United and Communications Workers of America (CWA) and have picked up support from workers in Virginia. 

Reached by email Thursday, Maximus spokesperson Sean O’Leary said the company was unaware of any plans for a strike. 

He said employees get up to 24 hours of paid administrative leave for COVID-19 quarantining, testing, vaccination or a positive diagnosis. After that, they can use any accrued paid time off or take leave without pay. 

Aside from their half-hour lunch break, full-time employees working 8 hours a day can take two 15-minute rest breaks, and those working 10 hours or more can take three 15-minute rest breaks, O’Leary said. Workers can request a bathroom break at any time, and those breaks are not time limited, he added.

“Maximus is committed to keeping its employees safe and healthy from COVID-19,” O’Leary said. “We adhere to the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines at our workplaces.”

Although Bogalusa is outside of his district, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter Sr., Louisiana’s only Democrat in Congress, said the Maximus workers deserve fair treatment and justice. 

“Especially as we fight off COVID, it’s just not right that Maximus workers who provide critical health services to millions of Americans are struggling to support their own families on low wages and unaffordable healthcare, especially as costs are rising,” Carter said. “If we are serious about racial justice in the federal government, and we should be, it has to include justice for these workers.”

U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Louisiana, whose district covers Bogalusa, did not respond to a request for comment.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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