Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to specify that the worker’s are with CUNA Mutual Group, and not CUNA, a separate credit union advocacy organization.
At a press conference at the Madison Labor Temple last night, union workers at the CUNA Mutual Group’s Madison office announced that they had voted to authorize a strike if a new contract is not signed by CUNA Mutual within a month.
That comes after the union, OPEIU Local 39, filed multiple allegations against CUNA Mutual with the National Labor Relations Board last week, including retaliation for union activity, unfairly laying off union organizers, and bargaining in bad faith.
CUNA Mutual provides investment financing and insurance to credit unions worldwide, and is one of the largest private employers in Madison.
CUNA Mutual workers first unionized back in the 1940s, and have never in their history gone on strike. Currently, a little more than a quarter of the over 1,700 CUNA Mutual workers in Madison are a part of the union. At a meeting last Wednesday, 87% of union CUNA Mutual workers took a vote to authorize a strike, and 92% of those workers voted in favor.
Workers have been negotiating a contract with CUNA Mutual since February of last year, saying that their top concerns are cutting benefits, outsourcing of jobs, and wage increases that don’t match inflation.
Sue Dresen has been an employee of CUNA Mutual for almost 47 years, and says that she’s personally experienced the impact of outsourced jobs. In 2006,her husband was laid off from CUNA Mutual after 19 years after his job was outsourced elsewhere.
While the company raked in over $5 billion dollars in revenue in 2022, the latest contract is only offering about a 4% raise for employees. Dresen says that, because they helped to create that revenue, they deserve a raise that at least matches current inflation rates.
“(Over) the past several years, the company has made record profits, and with an inflation rate as high as 11% last year, we the people, with our dedication to the company, have helped make the company profits too,” Dresen says. “We deserve a fair contract. If they are not serious about bargaining, then we are ready to strike.”
The union also says that CUNA Mutual has not been negotiating with them in good faith. When negotiations began, they were held virtually. But earlier this year, CUNA Mutual announced that they would move to in person negotiations only, and that they would not be paying workers for their time in negotiations.
Lester Pines is an attorney with Pines Bach LLC, and is representing the union in their case before the NLRB. He says that their refusal to negotiate virtually, alongside their hiring of union busting law firms Jackson Lewis and Ogletree Deakins, shows that they are not working in good faith.
“CUNA Mutual has, for years, stonewalled the union,” Pines says. “It has surreptitiously and deliberately violated the contracts, bringing in contractors to work, which is union work, which should be (for) individuals within the union. They have continued to play this game of saying that they are cooperating, kind of cooperating, and then never cooperating.”
CUNA Mutual Group tells WORT in a statement today, quote “We respect the decision of our employees to authorize a strike, and we are determined to reach a fair and market competitive agreement that meets the needs of our employees, our customers, and company,” end quote.
The CUNA Mutual representative declined to further comment on any specific claims made by the union.
The union also accuses CUNA Mutual of retaliatory firing of the union’s chief steward, Joe Evica. In January, the union sent letters to thousands of credit unions warning of a quote “potential disruption of financial services” end quote due to contract negotiating. In March, CUNA Mutual accused Evica of gathering those emails from private company data, and fired Evica earlier this month over violating workplace policy regarding data privacy.
But Evica says that he was not the one to even send the letter, and that he did not use private company data to get the information. Instead, he says that they purchased it from a third-party marketing group, and that he has the invoice to prove it.
Evica has filed charges of illegal retaliation with the NLRB, and is now looking to be reinstated with back pay.
With last week’s vote authorizing a strike, CUNA Mutual workers have until May 19 to go on strike. If they decide to strike after that date, they would need to hold another strike authorization vote.
Greg Gebaski contributed audio to this story.
Photo courtesy: Greg Geboski/ Madison Labor Radio