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Friday, September 29, 2023
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CUNA Mutual Group union overwhelmingly authorizes unfair practice labor strike

After over a year of negotiations, union representatives said CUNA’s refusal to negotiate in good faith has led to the union taking action towards fighting for fair contracts and compensation.

CUNA Mutual Group United, the union representing over 450 workers at the CUNA Mutual Group, voted 92% in favor of authorizing an unfair labor practice strike against their employers Monday.

The announcement was made at a press conference with various speakers including South Central Federation of Labor President Kevin Gundlach, State Representative Lisa Subeck, NAACP of Dane County Labor and Industry Committee Chair William Franks Jr. and OPEIU 39 Chief Steward Joe Evica. 

The union has been attempting to negotiate a new contract with the CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance and investment firm and one of Madison’s largest private-sector employers. Represented by OPEIU 39 labor union, CUNA Mutual Group United’s primary priorities include quality and affordable healthcare, retirement security, fair compensation, pay equity, improved diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, remote work flexibility and job security, according to OPEIU 39 President Kathryn Mulvihill-Bartlett. 

However, workers said the company stopped bargaining in good faith in January. In response, the union filed several unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to bargain for improved wages and working conditions. 

Evica said he has been on the bargaining table since the beginning but has yet to see any movement toward a fairer compensation system and better working conditions. 

“Our contract campaign is about basic things that all working people deserve,” Evica said. “But CUNA Mutual has denied them to us every step of the way.” 

The breakdown in negotiations began when CUNA Mutual insisted union representatives meet in person, despite the company having adopted a hybrid-first approach and allowing employees to work remotely. The company also said union workers can no longer be paid for their time during negotiations, even if they were done during working hours. 

Franks described the last bargaining session in January 2023 as one in which he saw the tone of communication changing to “aggressive and nasty.”

Union member Sue Dresen has been working at CUNA Mutual Group for 47 years but delayed her retirement date three times while waiting for a new retirement contract. She said she is frustrated with the management team’s unwillingness to negotiate with the union. 

“We have been bargaining with the company for a fair contract for over a year, [but] CUNA Mutual has not been bargaining in good faith,” Dresen said. “They have not met us at the negotiating table since January. They are making us put our lives on hold waiting for a fair contract.” 

Tensions between the union and management increased when management fired Evica, who had been suspended by the company in March, in a move the union called “targeted retaliation.”

“Our employer has pulled every illegal anti-worker trick out of the book, from stalling negotiations to bombarding us with misleading emails to retaliating against me and other union leaders,” said Evica. “CUNA Mutual Group fired me for no other reason than trying to intimidate our membership.”

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The union has garnered support from the city and county officials, with both the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the Madison Common Council passing resolutions in March encouraging CUNA Mutual to return to the negotiating table. Dane County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, who sponsored the bill supporting negotiations between CUNA and the union, said CUNA engaged in inappropriate retaliatory action against workers. 

“We stand with the union workers in their bargaining demands, [and] we urge CUNA Mutual to come to the table and negotiate a fair contract,” Wegleitner said. “And importantly, we condemn any discipline in retaliation for union activity or collective action, particularly when it targets workplace leaders and stewards.”

Dresen maintained that workers do not want to strike, but they are doing so because it is necessary to receive the fair contracts and labor protections they deserve. 

“We the people, with our dedication to the company, have helped make the company profitable, and we deserve a fair contract,” Dresen said. “If they are not serious about bargaining, we are ready to strike.”

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