LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Auto workers are not the only ones striking in Lansing right now. More than 1,000 UAW members walked off the job at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan on Sept. 13. At least 150 work in Lansing. They are still negotiating with the company to come up with a deal for better wages, health care and much more.
When workers at a company vote to join a union, they choose which union should represent them. UAW has expanded greatly to cover workers in many other industries besides automotive manufacturing.
Honks from car horns resounded in downtown Lansing from drivers supporting UAW members who work for BCBSM.
“We’re one of the only companies that I know of that doesn’t have retiree health care, and we work for a health insurance company,” said Breeanna Whalen, who has worked at BCBSM for two years.
Scott Ketchum, who’s worked for BCBSM for four years, said it’s been difficult explaining the strike to his three children. “Explaining to them that this is all in an effort to secure a better future. So, they accept that,” Ketchum said.
Robert Love, who’s also been working there for four years, said before the strike he had two jobs. Now, things are even tighter.
“I’m a performer. I sing on the side. So that, fortunately, helps me,” Love said. “We should be able to live here comfortably and work here comfortably without having to get a second job or do gigs.”
The vice president of the UAW chapter said members are striking for higher wages, health care for retirees and a stop to outsourcing.
“Our UAW workforce, we’re losing it to South America,” said Alan Harris, vice president of UAW Local 2256. “We’re losing it to call centers in the Philippines. We want to bring those jobs back here.”
Harris said that under current circumstances, the BCBSM workers can’t obtain basic standards of living. “We’re the largest and best insurance company and medical insurance company in the state,” Harris said. “When these young people retire, they have no medical insurance. They have no real pension. We’re gonna stay until it’s fair.”
The company released a statement on Sept. 13, saying the union members walked out after weeks of bargaining. The company also said that, while they’ve taken steps to address the situation, some customers might end up with longer wait times.
“On September 12, 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. Blue Care Network is not included in this action by the union. 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.”Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan