CUNA Mutual workers go on strike as contract negotiations stall
The offices of CUNA Mutual Group on Madison’s west side. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)
Nearly 500 workers employed by CUNA Mutual Group struck at midnight Thursday and began walking a picket line at 7 a.m. Friday in front of the Madison financial services firm’s office on the city’s west side.
The walkout was publicly announced on Monday, three weeks after the Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 39 rallied and announced that members had authorized a strike if they didn’t make sufficient progress in contract negotiations that began more than a year ago.
The union represents approximately 450 employees in professional, technical and clerical positions at CUNA Mutual. The business provides financial services and products to credit unions across the country.
The walkout is the largest in recent memory by white-collar workers in Wisconsin.
The union is characterizing the walkout as an unfair labor practice strike — a significant distinction because, if upheld by the National Labor Relations Board, it would prevent the company from permanently replacing strikers.
The union’s leaders told members on Friday, May 12, that the strike would go forward a week later unless circumstances changed in bargaining sessions with a federal mediator scheduled for this week.
The union said a Monday session was subsequently canceled, leaving sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In a statement late Thursday union leaders said they were “prepared to stay to bargain one by one through every issue until progress could not be made, but the Employer requested to end mediation after providing us their counter-proposal,” and that management representatives declined to offer additional days for bargaining, while the union said it would be available to meet for all but three days through the end of May.
Before this week’s mediation sessions, union leaders had said the principal points of dispute in contract talks included outsourcing work that had historically been done by union-represented employees, assigning it instead to independent contractors with no union rights and no long-term job security.
The union has also sought to maintain remote work policies that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health coverage, pension benefits, wages and a pay equity review for unionized employees are among the other issues separating the company and the union, according to union leaders.
In a statement issued Thursday, CUNA Mutual management said the company “remains fully committed to reaching a Collective Bargaining Agreement” with the union and asserted that the firm has responded to “the major issues the union has identified.”
The statement said the company proposal includes “a double-digit percentage immediate pay increase” as well as bonus improvements; “maintains the current health benefits” while adding a health savings account option; keeps remote work policies for full-time employees and “maintains retirement benefits for current employees” along with a 401(k) plan and 5% employer match.
The union has five pending NLRB cases charging the company with unfair labor practices, including a series of charges in connection with the firing of the union’s chief steward.
In March, the Dane County Board and the Madison city council both passed resolutions urging CUNA Mutual to resume bargaining.
The union and its lawyer have criticized CUNA Mutual for retaining two law firms with a reputation for aggressive anti-union strategies.
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