Against the backdrop of a threatened strike by nearly 150,000 autoworkers, more than 1,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan employees represented by the UAW walked off the job overnight after failing to negotiate a new contract.
The strike means longer wait times for customer service at the health care giant.
The Blue Cross strike comes as automaker contracts with UAW members are due to expire just before midnight Thursday, with nearly 150,000 employees at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis threatening to walk out of factories and warehouses across the country when the clock strikes midnight.
The BCBS members' contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, with the union leaving the bargaining table over key sticking points, including the outsourcing of jobs and stagnant wages. Members hit the picket lines in downtown Detroit and Lansing. The union represents Blues workers whose jobs include customer service, billing, claims and maintenance.
Union complains about wage structure and outsourcing
"Our primary goal was to abolish the multitiered pay structure, a system that currently requires a staggering 22 years for an employee at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to reach pay parity. Such a system is untenable for our union brothers and sisters, who strive to provide their families with a comfortable standard of living," the UAW said in a statement.
"Furthermore, we implored Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to cease outsourcing and contracting out job classifications previously negotiated by our union. This practice has led to a significant decrease in our membership by over 40 percent in the last decade."
The union maintains it proposed solutions to the company to correct discrepancies, but says the company "rejected our demands," triggering the walkout.
"We have called for a strike action — a demand for fair treatment and respect for our workforce. The time has come to say: Enough is enough!" the UAW argued in the statement, noting the CEO at BCBS Michigan made $17 million in 2022. "Our call for job security, pay equality and robust benefits must be met, especially in these times of soaring corporate profits."
Blue Cross Blue Shield said it hopes to resolve the strike "quickly, consistent with the spirit of collective bargaining, with our partners at the UAW.”
"After weeks of continuous negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, the United Auto Workers union walked away from the bargaining table and went on strike at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan," the insurer said in a statement Wednesday morning, noting that its Blue Care Network is not involved in the strike.
As for expected delays on the phone, the company stated: "Blue Cross has put contingencies in place to enable our company to continue to provide services to providers, group customers and our millions of members around the nation. Some of those services — particularly those provided over the phone — will require longer wait times. We encourage our members and customers to use our online and app-based services during this period, and we regret the inconvenience caused by this situation — which we desire to resolve quickly, consistent with the spirit of collective bargaining, with our partners at the UAW.”
The Blues union members, meanwhile, have been crying foul since contract negotiations kicked off on July 11.
As UAW Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock stated at the start of talks: "While workers at BCBSM and BCN struggle to make ends meet, BCBSM CEO Daniel Loepp has been paid nearly $45 million in just the last three years alone."
Tresa Baldas: email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's UAW workers go on strike