UAW announces tentative deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield to end strike

LANSING — UAW-represented workers say they have reached a tentative agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network after striking the health care company for 11 weeks.

"We did damn good," Lansing UAW Local 2256 Unit President Amy Castanon said Wednesday. "It's an excellent agreement. There is good language on job security and outsourcing."

Blue Cross Blue Shield and the UAW both issued statements Tuesday announcing the tentative deal.

Blue Cross, in a statement on its website, said "several phone calls between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President & CEO Daniel J. Loepp and UAW International President Shawn Fain over the past week" resulted in a verbal agreement to end the UAW’s strike..."

The collective bargaining agreement will include UAW-represented employees at BCBSM’s HMO subsidiary, Blue Care Network of Michigan.

“President Shawn Fain and I have agreed in principle on the construct of a new collective bargaining agreement that would deliver significant income and job security for our unionized workforce,” Loepp said in the statement. “On Wednesday, our bargaining teams will meet to formalize our agreement — bringing our employees one step closer to returning to work. I congratulate and thank President Fain for reaching out and working directly with me to get us to the starting line of the ratification process.”

UAW officials, in a statement said the contract shows what workers can accomplished when they stick together.

“...They can achieve historical gains at the bargaining table,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock, who also serves as the director of the union’s Technical, Office and Professional Department. “There were difficult times during this strike, especially with the cold weather, but our members never gave up hope and they continued to stand with one another for as long as it took to enable our bargaining team to win an equitable contract that our members deserve.”

Castanon said workers in Lansing, about 150 people, will remain off the job until the contract language is finalized and ratified by members. The timeline on when that might take place was not immediately clear.

Workers with UAW Local 2256 in Lansing have been a near-constant fixture in front of the company's offices on Capital Avenue in downtown, just a block from the state Capitol. Workers went on strike on Sept. 13.

Castanon said the recent strike was one of the longest against Blue Cross she could recall in her nearly 35 years with the company.

"I was part of the 1993 strike," she said. "This has been one of the longest, based on when we went out."

She said in 1993, workers returned near the Thanksgiving holiday, but walked off the job later after extending the previous contract. In 1987, she said, workers went out on Aug. 31 and remained out until the week of Thanksgiving.

Castanon said the union struck Blue Cross Blue Shield over three issues: wages, job security and outsourcing, and retiree health care.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to get retiree health care," she said, but added she was happy overall. "There is definitely a lot of money tied to this contract. It's very rich when it comes to wages."

The agreement, the union said in a statement on its website, contains "historic wins," including:

  • the reduction of the wage progression from 22 years to five,

  • significant general wage increases, a $6,500 ratification bonus for Blue Cross Blue Shield workers, and

  • a $5,000 ratification bonus for Blue Care Network workers and inflation protection bonuses of $1,000 each year of the contract.

"Negotiators were also able to secure stronger contractual language to protect worker jobs from being outsourced during the life of the agreement," the union said in the release.

The UAW said a primary issue for members in the negotiations was ending the multi-tiered pay structure that required workers to acquire 22 years of seniority to reach the top pay rate.

If ratified, the contract will cover approximately 1,300 UAW members from four local unions: Locals 2500 and 1781 based in Detroit, and Locals 2145 (Grand Rapids) and 2256 (Lansing).

Members will remain on strike while the agreement goes through the ratification process, the UAW said.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: UAW announces tentative deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield to end strike