LANSING, Mich. — More than 20 union workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield and one of its subsidiaries are now on unpaid leave because they didn’t meet the company’s requirement to get the Covid vaccine.
That number is expected to grow.
The health insurer and its counterpart, AF Group has sent about 24 workers home without pay.
If the workers aren’t fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, they will permanently lose their jobs.
Labor attorney Shawndrica Simmons says, if a company has federal contracts, it's beholden to federal mandates like the one issued by the Biden administration requiring companies with more than 100 employees to require the vaccine or weekly testing.
That mandate was paused by a federal judge but union representatives for the Blue Cross Blue Shield and AF Group say workers are still being required to get the shot.
“If what they’re saying that they are a federal contractor is true, then by all means you've got to follow the law. But when the stay was put on that mandate last Tuesday we have thought that the company would have stopped but they didn’t,” said Amy Castinon of the UAW Amalgamated Local 2256.
Simmons says all employers have the right to require certain things and also have the right to lay off workers who don’t meet the requirements.
“It's the same as if you were driving a truck for them and you caught a DUI on the weekend and your license was suspended a requirement for your employment was for you to have a valid drivers license. If you no longer have that drivers license the employer can require you to be on leave either paid or unpaid,” she said.
One union representative says its requirements for work are fine, but the company has other options besides laying people off, particularly since non-union employees have been able to work remotely.
“Every day we were coming in here. And still are. They keep extending for them to work from home. They tell us the technology doesn't support us working from home but they have vendors working in other states doing the same work we do,” said Castinon.
In a statement, Blue Cross Blue Shield said, "A two-step process is underway. All employees were required to start their vaccine series by Dec. 8, or have received an approved medical or religious accommodation to avoid being placed on an unpaid leave. Employees must be fully vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious accommodation by Tuesday, Jan. 4 or be separated from the company. Those on leave can return on Jan. 5 if they become vaccinated.”
Union officials say they are disappointed that the company won’t budge on this issue and they plan to take their concerns to the federal level.
“We filed ours about a week and a half ago. Ours didn’t have the federal mandate involved. They were just picking and choosing to say we want to apply it to you as an employer. Then they wouldn’t negotiate so we filed the unfair labor practice for duty to bargain,” said Tammy Thompson of the UAW Amalgamated Local 2256.
The UAW is also planning to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Blue Cross Blue Shield workers.
Both Castinon and Thompson say more people will be laid off this week because they aren’t vaccinated.
Castinon said, between Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Blue Care Network, about 140 people statewide will be put on leave due to this policy.
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