We need to make sure federal contractors like my employer are creating good jobs with livable wages, decent benefits, and the right to unionize.

By Katherine Charles, OtherWords

I love my job.

Every day I get to answer phone calls from some of the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the Affordable Care Act and help them get the health care benefits they need.

Maximus employees supporting unionization efforts

Even though I do an essential job, my employer — the federal call center run by Maximus in Tampa, Florida — doesn’t pay me enough or provide me with the health care benefits I need to treat my own health condition.

Maximus signed a 10-year deal worth $6.6 billion in 2022 to field calls about the federal health care marketplace and Medicare. The company has 10,000 employees across 12 call centers, mostly in the South and Southwest.

Companies like Maximus that get taxpayer money should have to create good jobs with livable wages, decent benefits, and the right to unionize — the same conditions that federal workers enjoy.

President Biden has taken some important steps, especially to set high standards for construction workers on new big infrastructure and clean energy projects. But more needs to be done to make sure service contract workers like me get a fair reward for our labor — instead of letting so much of public money go to rich executives and shareholders.

While many of us at Maximus who field calls all day make around $17 an hour, CEO Bruce Caswell got a 17 percent raise last year to $7.3 million. Over the past four years, Maximus has awarded Caswell over $27 million and spent over half a billion dollars on stock buybacks and dividends to enrich shareholders.

My only major raise in the 10 years I’ve been at Maximus came in 2022, when President Biden set the minimum wage for all federal contract workers at $15. While we appreciate the pay hike, I’m a single mother of two and I need a real living wage. My only raise in the last two years was 22 cents.

Our health benefits aren’t much better. I’m supposed to visit the doctor every three months to treat a chronic health condition, but because our deductibles are so high, I haven’t been in two years.

Because of these issues, last year I joined the campaign to unionize Maximus workers with the Communication Workers of America. The process is long and different locations are moving at different speeds, but we’ve already had some victories.

After we protested our high health costs, Maximus dropped our health insurance deductibles significantly. We need more help, though. I’ve participated in several protests at my call center demanding $25 an hour and increased benefits from Maximus.

I’ve also gone to Washington, D.C., to call on the Biden administration to follow through on its promise to create “good jobs” with federal money. Last fall I even got to take my daughter with me to speak with lawmakers in Congress.

I’m not going to quit my job. I’m going to stay and fight within the company to make it better, because the ACA is a great program that is helping millions of Americans.

And even though I know that I can be fired at any time — Maximus laid off more than 700 employees in one month last year — I’m standing up for my rights. I’m standing up for a better company and for a better future for my children.

Katherine Charles is a federal health care marketplace customer service specialist at the Maximus call center in Tampa, Florida. This op-ed was adapted from Inequality.org and distributed for syndication by OtherWords.org.