It’s been a busy December for the Communications Workers of America and their affiliates in the Washington, D.C. area. The union was at the forefront of two major labor actions over the last two weeks, first with a 24-hour walkout at the Washington Post and again at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in support of HHS-contracted call center workers. Naturally, the Maritime Trades Department joined our union siblings on the picket line for both occasions.
On December 7th, over 700 workers represented by the Washington Post Guild (affiliated with CWA through the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild) walked off the job after a frustrating year and a half of stalled negotiations with the newspaper’s management. The workers were seeking better pay and job protections as the Post’s ownership has flirted with layoffs and employee buyouts to close a budget shortfall. It was the first time in 50 years that the Post’s employees took to the picket lines.
Picketers first took their places in front of the Post’s headquarters in downtown D.C. right before sunrise, and continued to hold the line until late in the night. Officials and leaders from across the Labor movement marched with rank and file Post workers, including MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mark Clements.
The following week, the CWA-affiliated Call Center Workers United staged a rally in front of HHS headquarters in support of call center workers employed by the federal contractor Maximus. Clements and MTD Administrator/Chief of Staff Brittanie Potter represented the MTD at the rally.
Maximus employs roughly 700 workers in their Hattiesburg, Mississippi call center to handle customer service concerns for Medicare and the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Nearly 90 percent of these workers are women of color making minimum wage. The workers’ demands include not just higher pay, but also better health insurance options and protection from abusive callers who have subjected these employees to racist and sexist remarks.
CWA President Claude Cummings, who was present at both rallies, introduced a variety of speakers from the Labor Movement and government who joined in solidarity. Among the speakers was U.S. Rep. Benny Thompson (D-MS), a long-time friend of Maritime Labor. U.S. Reps Ro Khanna (D-CA), Cori Bush (D-MO), and Greg Casar (D-TX) also spoke. The rally culminated in President Cummings and several Maximus workers engaging in civil disobedience, blocking the street in front of the HHS building before being taken into police custody.