Union wary of Blue Cross lockout

April 15, 2011 Updated Apr 15, 2011 at 7:24 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury , Business First


Union wary of Blue Cross lockout

April 15, 2011 Updated Apr 15, 2011 at 7:24 AM EDT

The union representing 400 workers at BlueCross BlueShield of WNY is warning members of a potential lockout.

Officials with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 212 say the company is threatening a lockout if a new deal is not in place by April 25, when the current three-year contract expires.

WNY Labor Today, an online newspaper focused on organized labor in the region, published this week excerpts from a taped recording by Thomas Fentner, BlueCross BlueShield senior vice president for human resources and administrative services, who updated management representatives on current contract negotiations.

"We have advised the union the company will not extend the expiration date of the contract and will not allow (those union) employees to work without a contract," Fentner says on the tape. He goes on to say that BlueCross BlueShield has "made it clear to the union what must be in the final contract."

OPEIU Local 212 representatives did not return calls Thursday for comment. But in updates on the negotiations printed on its website, the two sides appear to be far apart on terms for a new contract.

According to OPEIU's online updates, company proposals include eliminating shifts, flex-time and employees' ability to use seniority to protect their jobs during layoffs. The company also wants to use temp workers when it chooses, eliminate restrictions on its use of part-time employees, subcontract work without any restrictions. Cuts to employee benefits would include requiring the use of paid time off for any all absences, eliminating the option of a one-hour lunch and implementing paid parking if it chooses.

The most recent post from April 10 recounted negotiation meetings held April 5 and April 7, reporting little progress.

"We were expecting economic proposals from company this week, and we did receive some. None of their proposals provide any additional economic benefit for the workforce."

The update indicated a mediator was expected to join some of the meetings this week. Another five and half days of negotiations were scheduled. OPEIU said in the updates its members are very concerned with job security, followed by concerns about health insurance and wages.

In a prepared release, Julie Snyder, director for corporate relations at BlueCross BlueShield of WNY, part of HealthNow New York, continues to work with the union to resolve contract issues but had no comment regarding a possible lockout.

"HealthNow New York is bargaining in good faith with OPEIU, Local 212, as we work toward a fair and equitable renewal of our labor agreement by April 25, 2011. We recognize it is in the best interest of all parties to reach agreement and help position us to continue to meet and exceed the expectations of our membership and the community. We place great value on all of our dedicated employees including those in the bargaining unit, and are making every effort to reach an agreement."

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