Close to 400 Union Employees Reject BCBS Offer

April 28, 2011 Updated Apr 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM EDT

By Kyla Igoe

April 28, 2011 Updated Apr 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - Thursday close to 400 workers of BlueCross BlueShield of WNY held a meeting to vote on the company's contract offer. Employees have been locked out since Tuesday after contract talks stalled. The employees rejected the offer by 96 percent.

"We're open to discussions, but it's amazing to us that after a 55 year relationship we should have such complicated problems," said OPEIU Local 212 Business Representative Deana Fox.

The company and the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 212 (OPEIU) have been trying to reach a contract agreement since February. The contract expired Monday night. Union representatives say discussions have halted over issues of job outsourcing, job security, and layoff procedures. A federal mediator called an end to negotiations at 10 p.m. Monday. Even though the company's final contract offer expired at 11:59 monday, union representatives wanted to give members a chance to view the company's offer and vote on it Thursday. BlueCross BlueShield says it's always willing to discuss a contract settlement and welcomes further negotiations.

"We want to actively bargain. There is absolutely every intention that our employees will return to their jobs and return as soon as possible," said BCBS Corporate Relations Director Julie Snyder. "We respect the bargaining process. As soon as an agreement is reached, those positions are there (for union employees). We're not looking to fill those positions with anyone other than our current employees."

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York is the only health insurer in the area with a unionized workforce and representatives say the lockout will not disrupt service. Although both sides are receptive to start up negotiations again, nothing has been scheduled.