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Blue Cross Blue Shield workers in Grand Rapids strike

By Owen Frassetto

Blue Cross Blue Shield strikers pose for a photo on the picket line in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. | Fight Back! News/staff

Grand Rapids, MI – Health insurance workers of Blue Cross Blue Shield, organized with the United Auto Workers (UAW), walked out on strike four weeks ago after new contract negotiations fell through.

Negotiations for a new contract between Blue Cross Blue Shield and the UAW were due to be resolved by September 13. Instead talks between the company and the union broke down September 11 and a work stoppage and picket line began in downtown Grand Rapids two days later. Workers with the UAW Local 2145 have been on strike and walking the picket line five days a week since then.

Ed Spang, the vice president of UAW Local 2145, spoke of the demands of the union and what negotiations with the Blue Cross Blue Shield are currently looking like, saying it didn’t matter if you’ve worked “90 days or 90 years,” the union wants to bring an end to the tiered system in their existing contract, where some workers get paid more than others. The UAW also wants to eliminate job outsourcing with this new contract. Spang explained how a large amount of health insurance jobs are being sent overseas to El Salvador and the Philippines.

The UAW at Blue Cross Blue Shield is also demanding healthcare for their retiree workers. Retirees since January 1, 2009 have gone without healthcare from the company. Spang also described how their workers currently must be employed for 22 years to achieve the highest pay rate, and that the union is demanding that number be reduced to a maximum of eight years. In addition, the UAW also wants a wage adjustment to match the cost of living, which has increased since past contracts.

The strike by Local 2145 is separate from the larger UAW auto strike happening across the country, which began last month and affects workers at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

The UAW provides the Grand Rapids local with legal, accounting and representative needs. Spang noted that UAW Local 167, located in Wyoming, Michigan, came out to walk the picket line downtown with Local 2145.

Local 2145 is organized in the Technical, Office, and Professional (TOP) sector of the UAW. TOP is currently the fastest growing sector of the union, according to Spang.

The union local returned to the table to negotiate with Blue Cross Blue Shield on Monday, October 2, but have remained on strike since then.

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