Re: ICWUC/UFCW Local 560C – W.H. Bagshaw Update
The International Chemical Workers Union Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (“ICWUC”), and its Local 560C (collectively, “Union”), are aware of the ongoing labor dispute at W.H. Bagshaw (“Employer”). The intent of this letter is to notify bargaining unit employees that Local 560C, in consultation with ICWUC, has been working on a path forward to secure the best possible outcome for our union brothers and sisters that work for W.H. Bagshaw.
I. So, What Happened?
On December 21, 2023, W.H. Bagshaw sent a letter to Cory Bombredi, ICWUC/UFCW Representative, stating that it would be withdrawing recognition of Local 560C’s majority status at the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, effective January 1, 2024. The Employer claimed that it received a petition, with more than 50% of the bargaining unit’s signatures, stating that it no longer wished to be represented by Local 560C.
Mind you, at the same time, Cory; Garfield Archer, Local 560C’s President; and, W.H. Bagshaw bargaining unit employees, Daniel Deforte and Christopher Kersey, had been trying to bargain a successor collective bargaining agreement with the Employer. However, the Employer only focused on its desire to change the bargaining unit employees’ health insurance coverage. The Union bargaining committee did not want to piecemeal negotiations; rather, it wanted to negotiate over any and all changes to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment at the same time. For instance, copies of some of the Union’s proposals are included as an enclosure with this letter.
Prior to the first bargaining session, it became clear that W.H. Bagshaw no longer wanted to participate in the UFCW Healthcare Fund. Rather, W.H. Bagshaw wanted to switch health insurance coverage to Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangement (ICHRA) plans offered through its broker. The Employer argued it had the right to unilaterally make such change without bargaining with the Union. Then, the Employer demanded that the change in insurance be brought before the membership for a vote since, under the collective bargaining agreement, a change in insurance carriers requires a vote of the membership. The Union committee could not possibly bring anything for a vote before the membership, because it had nothing of substance to vote on.
The Employer did not provide the Union bargaining committee with even the basic information needed to explain what changes the Employer desired to make through leaving the UFCW Healthcare Fund and by offering the new ICHRA plans. For instance, as explained below, the Employer did not tell the Union this, but we learned much later that the Employer’s proposed new plans apparently only cover healthcare providers within the State of New Hampshire! Certainly, the Employer had such information, as it had begun signing up the non-bargaining unit employees, but such information was not provided to the Union and probably not even to you either before you were asked to sign up. Therefore, the Union bargaining committee determined that the best course of action was to obtain the necessary and relevant information, to communicate with the membership to determine its priorities, and to negotiate over the Employer’s proposal.
As you are aware by now, the Employer’s health insurance change from the UFCW Healthcare Fund to the ICHRA is not a simple change in carriers, but a change to the plan design, coverage, choice in providers, etc., all of which would be, and should be, negotiated with the Union. Unfortunately, the Employer did not provide information regarding its ICHRA plans until December 14. Then, on December 20, the parties met, with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (“FMCS”) mediators to review W.H. Bagshaw’s health insurance proposal and to discuss it with a representative of UFCW’s Healthcare Fund.
During this bargaining session, it was decided that more time was needed to evaluate the healthcare options. A bargaining session was scheduled for December 27 and the parties verbally agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for 30 days beyond the December 31, 2023 expiration date. While the Union bargaining committee hoped that this would lend itself to progress in obtaining a successor collective bargaining agreement, the very next day W.H. Bagshaw sent a letter withdrawing recognition of Local 560C, cancelled the December 27th bargaining session, and refused to bargain any further.
II. W.H. Bagshaw’s Tactic Regarding Health Insurance.
As previously stated, it seemed rather obvious that the Employer no longer wanted to participate in the UFCW Healthcare Fund. The Union bargaining committee continually directed the healthcare conversation to the bargaining table so that it, along with other subjects, can be negotiated together. In contrast, the Employer wanted to piecemeal the healthcare conversation and provide generalizations to reach an agreement so that it can roll out its pre-selected ICHRA plans. Such action is not allowed by the collective bargaining agreement; therefore, it must be negotiated. Once Cory insisted on good faith negotiations, W.H. Bagshaw demanded that its change to the ICHRA plans be taken to the membership for a vote – again, without any information. Union representatives stood firm that such a change needed to be intelligently negotiated and that the members have the opportunity to make an informed decision.
Then, on November 30, the Employer drafted and proposed a Memorandum of Understanding that would allow it to transition Local 560C bargaining unit employees into the ICHRA plans. The draft MOU is enclosed. As you can see, there was zero information provided regarding the plan design, coverage, comparables between current UFCW Healthcare Fund coverage and the two ICHRA plans. Further, the MOU made no commitments. The MOU explicitly stated that such agreement “in no way” extended the current collective bargaining agreement, which was scheduled to expire on December 31, 2023. Therefore, there would be no protection or guarantees after the Employer was able to transition everyone from the UFCW Healthcare Fund to the ICHRA plan. This was not a risk that the Union bargaining committee wanted to take, especially since the Employer failed to provide any necessary and relevant information to make such a bold move. Rather, the Union bargaining committee urged the Employer to continue the discussions at the negotiating table.
On December 14, for the first time, W.H. Bagshaw provided some information regarding its ICHRA plans. Attached is the document provided. This document only provides basic plan benefits (not even a summary plan description, which is not sufficient) with premium rate quotes. The Employer’s statement that switching from the non-profit UFCW Healthcare Fund to the for-profit brokerage firm’s ICHRA plans, and/or finding individual coverage on your own through the Health Insurance Marketplace, would save the company and employees money is, at best, questionable. Just as the statement that the Employer will pay “100% of the premium” is misleading. The company will save money. That is true. Paying 100% of the contribution for either ICHRA plan will be the same or less than what it paid for its employer contributions the year prior. However, what are the premiums paying for? What EMPLOYEE BENEFITS are the EMPLOYER premiums paying for, and what other IMPROVED employee benefits, if any, will the employer provide using ITS COST SAVINGS?
The information that the Employer never provided to the Union was the comparison between the plan designs of the UFCW Healthcare Fund and the ICHRA plans. For example, as we recently learned, while you previously could go to a provider in Boston, MA, under the Option 1 ICHRA plan, you’re limited to providers within the State of New Hampshire. That proposed restrictive coverage should have been negotiated. The Union bargaining committee would have wanted to know what providers the membership was currently seeing and compare it to what the new plan had as an in-network option. Premiums, co-pays, and co-insurance are not the big picture. It’s what those costs pay for in terms of healthcare coverage that matter.
Furthermore, the UFCW Healthcare Fund’s plan benefit coverage is also negotiable. Had the Employer bargained in good faith, the parties could have negotiated a plan benefit coverage that worked for everyone that kept costs reasonable and maintained continuity of care. While the Employer received a quote from the UFCW Healthcare Fund for 2024 premiums for maintaining the same coverage as 2023, which included new free enhanced benefits (e.g., telehealth, mental health, at-home physical therapy after surgery, etc.), those increased costs could have been offset by manipulating the plan benefit coverage. Unfortunately, the Employer was focused on its ICHRA plans, rather than negotiating, or seeing what might be best for the employees through modifications to the existing UFCW Healthcare Fund.
Premiums many times are out of the control of health plans due to various factors. Again, UFCW Healthcare Fund is a non-profit organization. CGI Business Solutions is not. While the ICHRA plan premiums look like they “undercut” the UFCW Healthcare Fund premiums in 2024, the premium comparison is not a true apples-to-apples comparison based on the actual benefits offered between the plans. Premiums change: will the costs increase for the same plan? Will there be a change to the plan choices, and therefore providers again? Will W.H. Bagshaw eliminate Option 1 and only offer Option 2, the High Deductible Health Plan? Will W.H. Bagshaw offer health insurance to its employees at all?
The power of a union to negotiate terms of employment, such as healthcare, is immeasurable. Unfortunately, the Union bargaining committee was deprived of that ability when W.H. Bagshaw withdrew its recognition of Local 560C and refused to bargain. It sent the letter on December 21, the day after the parties held, for the first time, any meaningful discussions about the health insurance proposal, and immediately implemented the changes it wanted all along, without hearing the voice of its employees. Such decision did not have to be rushed, or better planning on the Employer’s part could have been accomplished knowing what it wanted to change, but, ultimately, it needed to get everything to its broker for enrollment, and the Union (i.e., bargaining unit employees) was apparently in the way.
III. Rights as an Employee – Wage Transparency
Under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), employees have the right to communicate with their coworkers about their wages and to compare the same. You may have discussions about wages when not at work, when you are on break, and even during work if employees are permitted to have other non-work conversations. You have these rights whether or not you are represented by a union. Wages are a vital term and condition of employment, and discussions of wages are often preliminary to organizing or other actions for mutual aid or protection.
When you and another employee have a conversation or communication about your pay, it is unlawful for your employer to punish or retaliate against you in any way for having that conversation. It is also unlawful for your employer to interrogate you about the conversation, threaten you for having it, or put you under surveillance for such conversations. Additionally, it is unlawful for the employer to have a work rule, policy, or hiring agreement that prohibits employees from discussing their wages with each other or that requires you to get the employer’s permission to have such discussions. If your employer does any of these things, a charge may be filed against the employer with the NLRB.
Cory, as a new Representative for Local 560C, became aware of some unusual approaches that W.H. Bagshaw used before and during negotiations. On behalf of the Union, Cory pushed back and received a lot of flak from the Employer for doing so. Both issues concern wages. The first issue was the unilateral issuance of wages right before negotiations. The second issue was the demand by W.H. Bagshaw that the wage rates not be shared with the bargaining unit employees. Neither action is acceptable and the Union bargaining committee was combating such tactics until the Employer’s refusal to bargain.
First, on September 21, 2023, Adria Bagshaw sent an email to Cory notifying him that the company wanted to review health insurance costs and to set dates in November to begin negotiations. She also mentioned the layoffs from earlier that Spring and the decline in business that led to an unknown freeze in wages. However, right before negotiations, W.H. Bagshaw decided to provide wage increases to some, but not all, of the bargaining unit, without notice, or an opportunity, for Local 560C to bargain about the same.
Here is the relevant portion of Mrs. Bagshaw’s email
suggesting times for negotiations, wage update
Adria Bagshaw <email@example.com>
Thu 9/21/2023 5:47 PM
To:Cory Bombredi <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc:Garfield Archer <email@example.com>;Aaron Bagshaw <Aaron.Bagshaw@whbagshaw.com>;Abby Morisseau
1 attachments (11 KB)
One of our key operators requested an increase [in wages] last month which led us to do a full review as it created some inequities. With the tight labor market, we cannot afford to lose any employees due to lagging wages. We gave some increases today, per the attached sheet. Where increases were not warranted, I made note.
Below is the attachment that Mrs. Bagshaw attached to her Sept. 21 email:
Upon comparison of payroll records, Union representatives noticed some alarming discrepancies. Namely, the wage rates provided on Sept. 21 did not match the actual base wage rate in payroll; the wages were much higher than reported. Here is the adjusted chart that the Union representatives created based on the payroll data:
- Green highlight means correct information. Yellow highlight means incorrect information and the correct information can be found on the right-hand side of the chart.
- For some unknown reason, bargaining unit employee, Aaron Nickerson was not included in this list. His Current Pay Rate was $29.92 and the New Pay Rate is $30.50.
- Timothy Duston was a new hire on 10/9/23. His starting wage was $21.45 on 2nd shift.
Prior to negotiations, Mrs. Bagshaw requested that Cory and/or President Archer keep wage rates “confidential,” even to the exclusion of Union bargaining committee members Deforte and Kersey! Wages are a mandatory subject of bargaining. The Union AND MEMBERS are entitled to know what the wage rates are so that it can ensure competitiveness, fairness, etc. As stated above, the discussion and transparency of wage information is protected concerted activity. Therefore, demanding confidentiality from folks that are in the bargaining unit was very concerning.
When an employer requests “confidentiality” of wages, it is usually not for a good reason. More than likely the employer wants to hide what it pays others for the same, or comparable, classifications. The employer may even want to play favorites because it finds them “irreplaceable” or a “key employee,” whereas others are devalued for no objective reason. The strength of a Union is to gather information on wages, know industry standards, and be a collective voice for all bargaining unit employees so that it can fairly increase wages for all and not just some.
Here, W.H. Bagshaw seemingly has created an environment where it discourages the sharing of information regarding its employees’ wages…even though it has a legal duty to provide such basic information, BUT ONLY IF THERE IS A UNION THERE! Perhaps the desire to keep such information confidential is due to not wanting its employees to know that on September 21st some folks received a 0% increase in wages whereas some received nearly a 30% increase.
In fact, Mrs. Bagshaw doubled down in the attempt to prevent the release of wage information during negotiations. On December 13, she sent an email stating the following:
On Wed, Dec 13, 2023, 8:23 AM Adria Bagshaw <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
When the request for payroll reports was made by you, management requested that the pay information not be shared with the employees on the bargaining committee, and you agreed not to share that information. I would like to discuss this at the beginning of our bargaining session on Wednesday if you are saying they will need this information. It is going to cause significant issues on our end and we have had complaints about this in the past. We have shared averages and data but have in more recent years avoided issues by shielding the employee representatives from seeing rates by employee.
(emphasis added). The bold portions in Mrs. Bagshaw’s email go against Federal Labor Law to the extent that the Employer is demanding that wage information not be shared to Union representatives of the bargaining unit and, one can assume, the entire bargaining unit. To be clear, the Union NEVER agreed to NOT share wage rates, as she falsely suggests in the email above.
As stated above, discussions among workers over wages is considered protected concerted activity. The negotiation over the same is inherently protected activity. The Union bargaining committee would not agree with W.H. Bagshaw to keep such information “confidential” and did not find Mrs. Bagshaw’s justification that sharing wage information would “cause issues” among bargaining unit employees reasonable. In fact, the Union bargaining committee felt the opposite, since the Employer was so adamant in its position to not share wages with the bargaining unit, it knew the reasons were due to the subjective nature wage increases were provided, if at all, and that such increases were not fair for all. One of the Union’s proposals was to create a wage scale, increase wages, and to have transparency. Unfortunately, the Employer withdrew from negotiations before any discussion could occur.
IV. What Now?
An Unfair Labor Practice charge has been filed with the Boston Region of the National Labor Relations Board based on the information outlined above. There will be many legal challenges to W.H. Bagshaw’s actions and interference with Local 560C’s representational duties. For the time being, sharing information, having patience with the process, and showing support and solidarity for your fellow union brothers and sisters is needed while this mess is untangled.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, concerns, etc. We are here to support you. If you, or your dependents, have negatively been impacted, or anticipate being negatively impacted, by the change in insurance coverage, please contact Cory Bombredi at email@example.com or 774-479-6124 (cell).
In Unity and Solidarity,
Lance E. Heasley, President
cc: Gerry Setley, ICWUC Vice President/Region 4 Director; Cory Bombredi, ICWUC Representative; Garfield Archer, Local 560C President; Legal Department