Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan UAW workers fight for better contract
Workers and strike supporters on the picket line stop for a picture outside a BCBSM building in downtown Detroit | photo courtesy of DUEL (Detroit Union Education League)

DETROIT – “Don’t get sick tonight, Blue Cross is on strike,” cheered Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan workers represented by UAW on a rainy Wednesday evening. They head into their fourth week of negotiations after over 1,000 workers walked off the job Sept. 13 following the previous contract’s expiration.

Most of the attention and spotlight has been placed on the expanding auto worker strike against Detroit’s Big 3. However, a concurrent struggle is going on with UAW against BCBSM. The details of the stoppage are different from the auto workers but the message from UAW is the same. This is a no-holds-barred fight for better wages, better retirement benefits, the elimination of multi-tiered pay structures, and the end to outsourcing of jobs to other vendors, according to workers on the picket line.

In a call to action, UAW Locals 1781, 2145, 2256, and 2500, reached out to union members and supporters: ”We are facing significant challenges in negotiating a fair contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan,” they wrote.” BCBSM has refused to accept our demands and is outsourcing our work to third parties.” The locals warned that this action endangers their livelihoods and collective bargaining strength.

Striking workers lined up for chicken and pepper burritos provided by local business Tacos Hernandez | Photo courtesy of DUEL

The composition of BCBSM’s workforce in Detroit is majority Black and majority women, two demographics that are historically underpaid and overworked. BCBSM’s hated tiered wages system requires 22 years for an employee at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to reach pay parity. UAW also claims there has been a 40% decrease in BCBSM union membership due to contracting out union jobs. “Such a system is untenable for our union brothers and sisters, who strive to provide their families with a comfortable standard of living.”

A striking worker from UAW Local 2500 told People’s World that they are striking for better wages and to end the company’s outsourcing to other vendors. Those vendors pay a lower wage, and that undercuts their collective bargaining power and takes money out of their pockets. His co-worker chimed in, “They’re making too much money, and we just want our fair share. We put in a lot of hard work.”

Dealing with the company’s reliance on non-union vendors has made the job and strike more difficult, a picketing help desk worker told People’s World. The young worker explained their fight against outsourcing of jobs. It’s similar, she said, but more complex than the auto workers’ fight against scab contractors crossing the picket line to come into the plant. “Every job inside this building is union,” she said gesturing towards the 22-floor skyscraper behind her. “But there’s nothing stopping BCBSM from outsourcing our jobs to non-union contractors and vendors while we strike.”

Her sentiment is widespread amongst all BCBSM workers. BCBSM is Michigan’s largest health insurance provider. How can this company maintain a multi-billion dollar enterprise revenue and still not supply their own workers with adequate retirement benefits, the workers ask? How can BCBSM CEO Daniel Loepp rake in $17M in cash during 2022, yet cannot bargain in good faith with the people whose labor created that value day after day?

Another striking worker on the picket line, dressed in a UAW poncho to shield him from the rainstorm, was worried that if the strike went on longer than a month people might get discouraged.  “We got an email saying negotiations would resume Monday, … we were told the same thing a week ago with no result, we’ll see.”

It’s safe to say none of that discouragement has precipitated just yet, as strikers chanted, marched, and danced in the rain. UAW leadership has made it clear they are not going to settle for anything less than what its membership deserves.

“The BCBSM UAW strike is evident that no matter what people clock in to do every day, working people will stand together with arms linked in the fight against corporate greed,” Beck Kaster, UAW local 600 autoworker and trade unionist, told People’s World.

UAW and BCBSM workers encourage their supporters to call the numbers below and follow the attached script, or show support on the picket line.


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Drew Younker
Drew Younker

Drew Younker writes from Detroit, Michigan.