Union wants insurer to keep work in Madison, not send it back overseas

    Computer worker
    Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

    The COVID-19 pandemic led Madison-based CUNA Mutual Group to bring some of its work back to Wisconsin after having outsourced it overseas several years ago.

    Now, as conditions have eased in Asia where the work came from, the company is making plans to offshore that work once again, according to the union representing about 500 Madison CUNA Mutual employees. The union wants the company to cancel those plans and keep the work in Madison.

    The work involved is mostly entry-level information technology and claims processing for CUNA Mutual, an insurance, financial services and technology business, says Kathryn Bartlett-Mulvihill, president of Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 39.

    That work had been done in India and the Philippines for several years, she says, but earlier this year, the contracting firms providing those services had to shut down for lack of available workers due to COVID-19 in those countries. The company then began reassigning those tasks to the Madison workforce. Late last month, however, CUNA Mutual management indicated the firm would be resuming its overseas contracts, prompting the union’s appeal to the company.

    “We were pretty astonished when the company said, ‘Thanks, this is great — once those [overseas contractors] are back up and running, we’re going to ship it out,’” Bartlett-Mulvihill adds.

    The decision echoed what she says has been a longstanding practice of outsourcing that began in the early 2000s and has diminished the number of workers represented by the union at the company from 1,600 people to less than a third of that number.

    The union has asked whether the company’s Madison workers have increased the company’s expenses compared to the overseas employees, but managers have never pointed to that as a problem, Bartlett-Mulvihill says.

    The union’s current agreement, which doesn’t expire until next year, doesn’t leave any contractual leverage to counter the company’s latest plans, but members are trying to appeal to CUNA Mutual to reconsider in light of the skyrocketing unemployment from the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of many businesses for the time being. “There’s plenty of [available] workers here, even if our [current] employees weren’t able to take it all back now,” she says.

    In a recent message to its members, the union stated: “Given the level of unemployment, pandemic uncertainty, and employee loyalty demonstrated to date, it’s simply hard for us to understand the company’s desire to again offshore this work and take jobs away from workers in our own community. Unless it’s to achieve their unstated goal of outsourcing more and more work to third-party contractors.”

    The Wisconsin Examiner contacted CUNA Mutual early Wednesday for comment but had not received any response by late Wednesday afternoon. This story will be updated if new information becomes available.

     

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.