Hundreds of CUNA Mutual workers strike in Madison to protest outsourcing, contract hiring

The Office and Professional Employees Union says the Wisconsin-based insurance company violated labor laws

Union workers strike outside CUNA Mutual in Madison.
Members represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union strike outside the headquarters of Madison-based CUNA Mutual Group on Friday, May 19, 2023 amid a contract dispute with the company. Sarah Lehr/WPR

Hundreds of workers are on strike amid a contract dispute with Madison-based CUNA Mutual Group.

Members represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 39 began picketing Friday outside the insurance company’s headquarters.

At issue are concerns including health care, retirement plans, remote work and job security, said Joe Evica, the union’s steward.

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“They’ve outsourced more than 1,200 of our jobs in the last 20 years, and contracted many of them out,” Evica said. “They’d rather pay flexible, temporary, non-benefited contractors to perform work in order to save money than provide good-paying union jobs in the Madison community.”

OPEIU 39 has filed seven unfair labor practice claims against CUNA Mutual so far this year, and the union is framing the strike as a response to what it says are violations of the National Labor Relations Act. The union alleges that CUNA Mutual suspended and eventually fired Evica as retaliation for his labor organizing.

Classifying the strike as one over unfair labor practices could protect strikers from being permanently replaced by the company. Under the National Labor Relations Act, strikes over unfair labor practices give workers more legal protection in comparison to those solely over disputes about economic conditions like hours or pay.

“CUNA Mutual has pulled out a number of different anti-union tricks from their playbook, whether that’s stalling the bargaining process, or refusing to provide information, or in my case, and in the case of other union leaders, disciplining and retaliating against us for our union activity,” Evica said.

A CUNA Mutual spokesperson says Evica was fired for violating workplace rules related to data privacy and information handling.

“We have an 80-year relationship with the union, which has been part of our history and will be part of our future,” spokesperson Barclay Pollak wrote in an email. “CUNA Mutual Group will continue to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement.”

The statement added, “We have business resiliency plans in place to ensure uninterrupted service to our customers while we continue negotiations with the union.”

Company officials say they’ve responded to the union with a proposal that includes maintaining retirement plans for current employees, allowing full-time employees to work remotely with a stipend for virtual work and offering a “double-digit percentage immediate pay increase, an increase to bonus structure and a cash bonus upon ratification.”

Evica says that offer of a “double-digit percentage” pay increase doesn’t reflect the fact that members should have gotten raises last year, given that workers have been out of a contract for roughly 400 days. He says the proposal still doesn’t account for steep inflation and the rising cost of living.

OPEIU 39 represents about 450 CUNA Mutual employees. The company is one of Madison’s largest private sector employers, with about 1,700 workers based in Madison and more than 4,200 workers total.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to more accurately summarize the union’s response to an offer of a double-digit pay increase.

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