Nearly 400 workers at HealthNow New York, who have been locked out of their jobs for more than 12 weeks, ratified a new three-year union contract Wednesday, providing for them to return to work by Aug. 1, after a negotiated, paid two-week vacation.
The new agreement, reached by the two sides last Friday morning after a marathon 35-hour negotiation, appears to provide a victory for both the company and the union, Local 212 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union.
"We are pleased to have reached an agreement," said Alphonso O'Neil-White, president and CEO of Buffalo-based HealthNow, parent of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. "The elements that were essential to the company are part of the new collective bargaining agreement and allow us now to focus on our future."
The contract provides for wage increases totaling 5 percent over the three-year term of the agreement, plus a $2,500 lump-sum bonus. And the union stressed that it made no concessions to the benefits package and working conditions that employees currently have.
The contract allows the company to subcontract or outsource work to vendors to provide service to HealthNow members, but also guarantees that none of the 390 current members of the union will lose their jobs.
That meets the goals of the company for more flexibility "to move work wherever and whenever it makes sense," said spokeswoman Julie Snyder.
But it also maintains job security protection provisions that the company had originally sought to remove — a major sticking point since talks began in February for a new contract. The job protections will not apply to any new employees, however.
"We are very pleased that the parties were able to reach an agreement through the process of collective bargaining, demonstrating that mutual agreement trumps unilateral action," said OPEIU International President Michael Goodwin.
Ratification ends a lockout that began at midnight on April 26, following the final breakdown of labor talks to reach a new contract.