Hattiesburg call center employees among those owed back wages according to federal complaint

Hattiesburg call center employees among those owed back wages according to federal complaint
The union said the complaint provides evidence that GDIT misclassified call center employees to pay them less than their job duties merited. (Photo source: General Dynamics Facebook)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A complaint filed with the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division estimated that $107 million in back wages are owed to employees of federally contracted call centers, including as many as 2,000 Hattiesburg employees.

The Communications Workers of America filed the complaint on behalf of employees of General Dynamics Information Technology Inc. and called for an investigation into alleged systemic and serious wage violations, accorded to a CWA press release.

The union said the complaint provides evidence that GDIT misclassified call center employees to pay them less than their job duties merited. GDIT is contracted with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and covered by the federal Service Contract Act, which requires wage standards for federally contracted service work. General Dynamics employs about 10,000 workers at 11 call centers under the contract.

Employees of the Hattiesburg location would see wages increased by $3,682 to $6,572 annually if they were classified properly at the required pay rate, according to CWA.

"It's a paradox. I love my job, and love helping customers get the help and peace of mind they need. I talk to as many as 60 callers every day. But the company doesn't provide us with any peace of mind, because we're being cheated out of our wages and have no job security," Adrian Powe said in the press release.

Powe is an employee of the Hattiesburg location and makes $9.64 an hour and drives almost three hours round trip every day for work.

WDAM spoke with Powe on Thursday to hear his side of the story.

"When they showed me the information from the Department of Labor which broke down each classification, $9.64 wasn't even on the paper," Powe said. "I was like 'where's my job title?' I read up the list and figured out that my job title was like $11 or $12 dollars an hour. I was like 'what's going on?'

"I've had two rounds of extensive training to get to my current job. It's a lot responsibility and a lot of work. But I'm being paid at a much lower rate. I'm being cheated, and the federal government must hold GDIT accountable. GDIT needs to follow the contract it agreed to."

If the WHD agrees with the complaint, thousands of employees could recover more than $100 million, which would become the largest recovery in the history of the Service Contract Act, according to CWA.

"We want the government to enforce the law," CWA General Counsel Jody Calemine said in a statement. "We're asking the Department of Labor for an enterprise-wide investigation, to make sure all workers are paid what they're owed at all 11 call centers covered by this contract."

GDIC employees from multiple call centers are scheduled to meet with leading Senators and members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison on Wednesday and Thursday regarding the alleged wage theft.

"I really don't want people to get blinded by the $107 million or back pay," Powe said. "Because moving forward if we don't unionize, we still won't have a voice. The company will never improve. I believe in General Dynamics in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I believe we can become one of the best call centers around here. At the same time, there are some things that need to be changed."