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BlueCross BlueShield, union negotiate tentative contract extension

The parent company of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and a union representing 440 of its workers have reached a tentative agreement on a two-year contract extension, the parties announced Monday.

Members of Local 153, Office and Professional Employees International Union, are set to vote on Saturday on an extension that runs from April 2017 to April 2019 and provides raises worth 5.75 percent over the two years, according to union officials.

Representatives of Local 153, OPEIU, and HealthNow, the parent of BlueCross BlueShield, began negotiations on an extension months before the current collective bargaining agreement was to expire in April. This is in contrast with previous rounds of bargaining between the two parties.

Earlier negotiations – particularly when the employees were members of Local 212, prior to merging with Local 153 in 2013 – were marked by conflict and strikes, according to the union. A lockout in 2011 lasted three months before HealthNow and the OPEIU members reached a settlement.

In 2014, however, HealthNow and members of Local 153 reached agreement on a three-year contract, with the promise that the insurer would move jobs to Buffalo from its offices in a Philadelphia suburb. HealthNow ended up hiring 50 employees in its claims, billing and enrollment and customer-service departments as part of that arrangement. Union-represented employment has grown further since then.

The tentative contract extension negotiated on July 27 includes a 1 percent raise effective Sept. 1 of this year, a 2.25 percent raise effective July 1, 2017 and a 2.5 percent raise effective July 1, 2018, according to the union. The contract also provides biannual step increases to all workers earning less than the top pay rate for their respective job title and labor grade and it maintains the current health benefits.

“This contract extension is good for the Buffalo and Western New York labor community and downtown Buffalo,” Robert McLennan, the business representative for Local 153, said in a statement. “Our members continue to get paid solid wages and benefits and we want to help the company continue to grow and add even more union jobs in Western New York.”

Local 153 said it plans to build off the gains made in this contract to try to give a boost to its organizing efforts at other local insurers. HealthNow is the only insurer with a significant local presence with unionized workers.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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