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Sunday, April 14, 2024

TruStage workers pause strike, negotiations continue amidst labor concerns

Inside the strike: Scenes from Madison’s TruStage worker’s strike

TruStage employees returned to work, marking the end of their strike that began on May 19 while leaving the door open for a return to the picket lines if new negotiations falter.

As negotiations continue, employees from the Madison-based mutual insurance company, formerly known as CUNA Mutual Group, say they’re slowing down their efforts to advocate for a new deal. Union members cited tentative agreements on "priority issues such as job security and remote work flexibility" as reasoning for ending their over two-week-long strike.

The strike began as complaints of unfair labor practices were filed by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 39 (OPEIU Local 39), the union which represents TruStage employees. The union filed nine charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

“This is the first time that this union, in our 80 years of history, has voted for a strike authorization,” said Kathryn Bartlett-Mulvihill, president and business manager of OPEIU Local 39. “We've been bargaining for over 14 months.”

Bartlett-Mulvihill told The Daily Cardinal that TruStage has engaged in bargaining in bad faith.

“They’ve done things like not agreeing to meet, which you have to [by] law if you're bargaining. They actually fired the chief steward for concerted activity,” she explained. “[TruStage has] misclassified a full segment of their workforce to get them out of the bargaining unit.”

TruStage disputes these claims.

“From the start, we have bargained in good faith to come to an agreement,” TruStage told The Daily Cardinal in a statement. “Regardless of union activities, TruStage remains determined to reach an agreement that is fair, market competitive and meets the needs of our employees, customers and company.”

The two sides have not yet reached a final agreement. Although there has been progress on job security and remote work flexibility, three important issues are still unresolved: wages, health care and pensions, OPEIU Local 39 told The Daily Cardinal.

“Though we are suspending the strike, our membership has voted 92% to go back out on the picket line if TruStage stalls the bargaining again,” said Joe Evica, chief steward of OPEIU Local 39.

Evica, who also works at TruStage, was placed on paid suspension in March pending an investigation into "disclosure of company information." The union said the move was widely viewed as retaliation for his union activity, sparking concerns about the employer's commitment to fair bargaining and prompting calls for neutral oversight of the case.

“After illegally refusing to bargain with us for more than four months straight, our unfair labor practice strike got TruStage back to the bargaining table,” explained Evica. “We were able to make some important progress, but several large priorities and unfair labor practices remain unresolved.“

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TruStage says they are “encouraged by the progress” made during negotiations.

During the negotiation process, OPEIU Local 39 organized multiple rallies and demonstrations, something employees said created a strong sense of community support.

During a rally at the Dane County Farmers Market in early May, the Forward! Marching Band led attendees in energetic chants and songs as employees and community members voiced support for the then-imminent strike.

“We're thrilled [to have the community support]. Madison is a great community. It's a great labor town,” said Bartlett-Mulvihill. “The more that the community comes to support that, employers like [TruStage] who have been here for 80 years will learn that message too and work with us.”

OPEIU Local 39 demonstrations garnered attention from community and state leaders. During a picket on May 26th, the sixth day of strikes, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., joined the protestors outside TruStage headquarters in Madison.

“I'm proud to stand with [OPEIU Local 39] as they fight to keep good paying union jobs here in Wisconsin,” Baldwin said in a tweet the next day.

TruStage and OPEIU Local 39 anticipate ongoing negotiations as they move forward without a current contract reached, according to representatives from TruStage and OPEIU Local 39.

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Jasper Bernstein

Jasper Bernstein is the Associate News Editor for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @jasperberns.

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