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BLUE CROSS WORKERS APPROVE PACT WITH 5% RAISE

Eight months of working without a contract ended Sunday when clerical workers at Blue Cross of Western New York voted overwhelmingly in favor of a three-year contract that calls for a 5 percent annual increase in salary and settles a job security issue.

The 580-member Local 212 of the Office & Professional Employees International Union voted 391-2 for the contract, which tentatively had been agreed to by union and Blue Cross negotiators Wednesday.

"I'm very pleased with the results," said Gerald Skrzeczkowski, business representative for the local. "We had a long time when we could not reach agreement, and it was a long, difficult period. The last month or so it's turned around."

The job security issue involved the union's wish for written assurance that the work now being done by claim processors will not be contracted to an outside firm. In late October, the then-president of Blue Cross said the company was proposing language promising that subcontracting work would not result in unemployment of any Local 212 member.

"We were able to successfully resolve the subcontracting language," Skrzeczkowski said after the membership vote.

Frances E. Hayes, the acting president of Blue Cross, said in a prepared statement that the agency was "pleased with the contract."

The previous contract expired April 25. After the workers turned down management's last offer four days later, Blue Cross locked out employees for nearly eight hours, starting at midnight April 30.

As the lack of a contract dragged on, Skrzeczkowski urged members of other unions to transfer their health insurance membership away from Blue Cross at renewal time.

Asked Sunday night if some coverage was transferred and what impact that might have had on the contract talks, he said: "Some of that was done. Whether it made a difference, I don't know."

"The biggest thing," he said, "is Blue Cross and this union have put our differences behind us, and we've committed ourselves to work positively in the future."

The union leader said that now that the contract is in place, with wage increases effective as of last April 25, his advice is, "Just forget whatever happened over these last eight months."

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