April 13, 2011

Union rights of Buffalo workers under attack

Source: NYSUT Newswire

NYSUT members are being asked to send an urgent message of support on behalf of unionized office professionals at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York — where management is threatening a lockout and waging a blistering attack on labor rights.

The Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 212 represents 400 BCBS employees in Buffalo. Its current three-year contract expires April 25, and management is threatening to lockout the union if a new deal is not in place by then.

"It's a brazen statement when you're negotiating a contract," Deana Fox, OPEIU Local 212 representative, told WNYlabortoday.net. "It doesn't show much good faith when you talk about locking out your employees. What does that say about the respect they have for their employees that they can just flip the switch off and say, 'We don't need you anymore?'"

Sources told the website that management, as part of negotiations, has put forth a proposal to eliminate worker seniority as a protection against layoffs, and substitute that provision with performance-based criteria. The company also hopes to do away with flex-time schedules and restrictions on mandatory overtime, use temporary agency employees at will and sub-contract work without restriction or discussion.

The effort by BCBS to weaken, if not outright bust, Local 212 — a member of the AFL-CIO with 700 members all across Western New York — comes at a time when unions and labor rights are under attack nationwide. Perhaps the most notable of those attacks came earlier this year in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker took aim at dismantling the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

The unrest at BCBS also comes on the heels of a massive demonstration that drew thousands of unionists — from teachers and teamsters to plumbers and childcare workers — to Times Square on April 9 to voice their support for labor rights.