Questions raised about state’s contractor choice for new unemployment call center

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Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The new call center set up to handle questions about unemployment claims in Hawaii is actually staffed by mainland workers from a private contractor.

And that contractor ― Maximus ― has a bad reputation among unions.

The state Labor Department hired Maximus to replace a dismantled phone bank that was at the Hawaii Convention Center. Acting Labor Director Anne Eustaquio said Maximus was recommended and she was told that Maximus could set up a virtual call bank quickly to help Hawaii’s unemployed.

“They’ve done very well in the other states that we asked,” Eustaquio said. "We hadn’t heard any complaints within the (unemployment insurance) community and since we hadn’t and we knew they had experience they could help us spin something up rather quickly.”

But union leaders are concerned about the choice, saying Maximus doesn’t treat their people fairly and fails to train them properly.

Estaquio did notify the Hawaii Government Employees Association of the state’s plan to outsource and Executive Director Randy Perreira said he didn’t object because he knew state employees were overwhelmed by a flood of claims and other problems.

But Perreira said he didn’t realize the company the state chose was Maximus.

“We weren’t aware of what company the Labor Department was looking to contract with,” he said. "Certainly, I am aware anecdotally of the reputation that Maximus has.”

A national union for communications workers has been fighting to organize Maximus employees and shares bad news on the company on a website titled “Maximess."

“There’s really high turnover and that impacts both the cost and quality of service because you have people who are trained and experienced constantly leaving,” Dan Bass, of the Communications Workers of America union.

He said the lack of training leaves workers unable to properly help callers.

Hawaii News Now has heard complaints from Hawaii filers that the virtual call takers offer little assistance, sometimes simply offering to write down their information to forward to someone else.

Eustaquio points out that Maximus is only being used until the end of the year, and was paid for using federal CARES Act money.

A spokesperson for Maximus told Hawaii News Now that they are committed to protecting the rights of all their employees and complying with all laws.

The spokesperson denied they engage in anti-union tactics.

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