New rules, request to reapply for jobs create workers' 'hell' UNEASY DAYS AT BLUE CROSS

November 16, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland executives, as part of a reorganization of the state's largest health insurer, have set up a kind of employee musical chairs -- asking groups of workers to reapply for their jobs while reducing the number of jobs available.

The company also put into effect yesterday sweeping new employee regulations that many workers say reduce their benefits and freedoms.

Although as recently as Friday, the company had insisted it was not laying off workers, Sharon Vecchioni, vice president for human resources at Blue Cross, said late yesterday that some employees have lost their jobs as the company reduces duplication and consolidates various units.

And she indicated the reapplication process, which is part of an effort to make the company more centralized, will continue, although she would not say for how long, or which units might be affected.

"It could be any area that we can enhance through consolidation," she said.

She did not give precise numbers of jobs lost, saying only that fewer than 20 of Blue Cross' 4,000 employees had lost their jobs in "the last couple of weeks."

But employees interviewed yesterday said that the request for job reapplications has been hitting one or two divisions a week since the summer and that there was widespread fear for job security.

Several workers, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear for their jobs, noted that because of their concern about the piecemeal job eliminations, many were supporting a new United Auto Workers organizing drive at Blue Cross.

"We are living in a daily hell," said one worker.

"People are stressed out. They can't sleep. They are crying. Today, we did nothing at work," said the woman, who said she supports the unionizing drive.

The woman said the tensions were not limited to workers, but she had heard "managers screaming in the halls" about their inability to do jobs with reduced staffs.

Adding to the pressure, the woman said, were the company's new employee policies, which took effect yesterday.

For example, the company reduced severance pay from three months to one month as of yesterday. And under the new severance policy, Blue Cross will deny severance pay to any worker who loses their previous job and refuses an opening slightly lower in the company.

"This way they won't have to pay severance," the woman said. "They are finding every loophole they can."

She and other workers said they were upset about several other policy changes that took effect yesterday.

As of yesterday, according to the company and workers, Blue Cross:

* Began counting "occurrences," such as calling in sick, leaving work for a family emergency or arriving at work more than 15 minutes late. Workers were told that if they collect seven notations in a 12-month period, they can be dismissed.

* Instituted a dress code, including for workers who have no contact with the public. The workers feared that those who are dressed inappropriately will be sent home, and will receive one "occurrence."

* Encouraged workers to leave their desks for their 45-minute scheduled lunches.

* Banned all smoking on Blue Cross property, meaning smokers must walk a block to the Owings Mill mall or the Interstate 795 on-ramp.

Interviewed as they stood outside the Owings Mills complex during their lunch break, workers said yesterday that they were angered and puzzled by the new restrictions.

They said that previous, more flexible policies, such as those allowing workers to wear whatever they liked, or make up time lost to a family emergency, had not been abused.

They said they were concerned because many of the rules, which have been circulating since Oct. 1, are vague and may be enforced differently by managers.

For example, they said, the company had not issued written guidelines about the dress code, saying only that workers must make a "professional appearance."

Ms. Vecchioni said the company instituted a total of 50 new policies yesterday in order to make treatment of employees consistent across the company.

And other rules, she said, will be good for the company. For example, the company banned smoking on all its property, including the sidewalks in front of the buildings, because it provides health insurance.

"We have patients who come to our company. They walk through the lobby, and we don't want to subject them to passive smoke," Ms. Vecchioni said.

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