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OPEIU Local 212 & BlueCross BlueShield Of Western New York In Negotiations On A New Contract/Union Says Its Prime Focus Is To Bring More Than 40 Company Positions The Local Health Care Provider Had Moved To Pennsylvania Back To Buffalo

OPEIU Local 212 Business Representative Deana Fox Tells WNYLaborToday.com Those Pennsylvania Jobs Each Carry A Yearly Salary Of $40,000/Union Currently Represents 400 At BlueCross BlueShield Of Western New York In Downtown Buffalo

Published Sunday, April 3, 2011 11:00 am
by Tom Campbell/Editor-Publisher

(BUFFALO) – The Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 212 - which is currently in contract negotiations with BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York - is working to bring back more than 40 jobs to Buffalo that the Regional Health Care Provider had moved to Pennsylvania, Union Representatives tell WNYLaborToday.com.

OPEIU Local 212 represents 400 employees at BlueCross BlueShield, which is operated regionally by HealthNow New York, Inc. and whose current three-year contract with the Union expires on April 25th.  BlueCross BlueShield employs a total of 1,700 workers at its sprawling West Genesee Street headquarters in Downtown Buffalo.

“Our prime issue is to bring back those jobs from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Buffalo,” OPEIU Local 212 Business Representative Deana Fox, who also serves as Recording Secretary of the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF), told WNYLaborToday.com after recently addressing area Labor Leaders at the WNYALF’s annual meeting on the state of negotiations with BlueCross BlueShield.

“The positions – account supervisors, claims processors and customer representatives – have all been contracted out to third party administrators.  The average wage is more than forty-thousand dollars a year and this is a great reason to bring these good-paying jobs back to Buffalo.  There’s plenty of room in Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s Buffalo Office to accommodate these workers.  And, the work in Pennsylvania is being done non-Union,” Fox said.

Meanwhile, BlueCross BlueShield is being described by Fox as “less than cooperative,” by Fox.  Both sides have been meeting twice a week for a total of 13 bargaining sessions to date.  Seven more are scheduled before the current contract expires at the end of the month.

“Our (Labor-Management) relationship has not been a cooperative one.  The company wants the right to change important Health Care language and then change it again from time to time,” said Fox, who added OPEIU Local 212 has lost 160 members at BlueCross BlueShield over the past three years.  “(Management) has never really made the attempt to understand our contract.  They can’t accept its language.  At a time when Organized Labor constitutes about twenty-percent of BlueCross BlueShield’s overall business – our relationship has diminished.  They see the Union as a hindrance and feel it’s a waste of time to meet with the Union to solve our problems.”

There are several sticking points in negotiations, Fox tells WNYLaborToday.com, including protective language that covers layoffs, seniority and employee movement within the company. 

“They’ve come up with new performance standards and then they alter those standards to change (employee) goals.  Obviously this has a major impact on their employees.  We’ve had a number of disputes with BlueCross BlueShield over the past year as the Union has not been notified of a number of these changes.  Subsequently, we’ve had to grieve them out,” she said.

Unbelievably, Health Care Coverage is another area of contention, Fox said. 

“They want to offer (Union-Represented Employees) the same Health Care Coverage they offer their non-Union employees and then be given the right to change it from time to time.  And these are not ‘little tweaks.’  In the past we’ve looked to work with them, but we’ve been bitten (by that decision),” said Fox, who adds the 400 BlueCross BlueShield Employees represented by OPEIU Local 212 fall under as many as 25 individual job titles. 

Meanwhile, the top 10 officers of BlueCross BlueShield – starting with President & CEO Alphonso O’Neil-White, who made $1.8 million in compensation in 2010 – combine to make $6.6 million “while working for a non-profit,” Fox pointed out.  “That pays the salary for about one-hundred-and-fifty of our members,” she said. 

“(OPEIU Local 212) knows these are changing times in the Health Care Industry and with major Health Care Reform, but we do want to be ‘part of the solution,’” Fox added.  “It ‘is’ in the best interest of our Union that BlueCross BlueShield survives and thrives and we’re not getting any credit at all for that.  Every Union knows that if there’s no company – there’s no jobs.”

However, employee morale is not high at BlueCross BlueShield, according to the results of a 2009 Internal Employment Survey, Fox said. 

“Eighty-one-percent of the respondents, Union Members, said they did not have confidence in the company’s leadership to take (the company) in the right direction.  That was a major concern.  Many of the four-hundred Union Employees at BlueCross BlueShield – ninety-percent who are women, another twenty-five percent who are African-Americans and who all have an average of 17 years on the job – used to be very proud of where they worked,” she said.

OPEIU Local 212 represents 700 members across Western New York that work for a number of area employers, including: BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York; The Cornerstone Community Federal Credit Union in Lockport; The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo; a number of other local credit unions and at some area Labor Unions.

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