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Horizon preparing for possible strike by its union

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Managers at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey are preparing to handle additional tasks should the health insurer fail to reach an agreement with a union representing 1,200 of its employees, potentially triggering a strike. The current three-year deal expires April 30.

“Although we remain optimistic that the parties will reach a settlement, we have contingency plans in place to ensure that we maintain the same level of services for our members and providers,” Horizon said in a statement. “We have tentative agreements on several operational items, and we continue to have a constructive dialogue on how the company and union will partner moving forward.”

Horizon employs 5,000 people. Local 32 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union represents 1,200 Horizon employees handling claims, enrollment and customer service at the company’s Newark, Wall and Mount Laurel offices, said Lois Cuccinello, assistant business manager of Local 32 and chief negotiator for the union.

“Both sides are very hopeful that there will be a resolution prior to April 30, and both sides are making efforts to avoid a strike,” Cuccinello said.

Asked about Horizon’s preparations for a strike, she said, “That is standard operating procedure for the company. If there is a threat of a strike, they make preparations, just as we talk to our people about what to expect on April 30 if we cannot reach an agreement.” She said the last strike, in 1997, lasted two days.

Cuccinello said issues on the table include outsourcing jobs and a company proposal to increase the workers’ out-of-pocket health plans costs. The two sides differ on compensation, with the company proposing three years of bonuses and a 1 percent wage increase the second year, while the union is seeking a four-year contract with wage increases of 3 percent each year.

“The talks are progressing,” Cuccinello said. “We have been in negotiations since early March. We have a number of issues on the table, but the talks are progressing.”

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