CUNA Mutual, Union Reach Tentative Labor Deal

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CUNA Mutual Group and its employees union, the Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 39, reached tentative agreement on a new contract last week, apparently ending a bitter 15-month labor dispute.

Top representatives of both sides, including Peter Hurtgen, chief negotiator for CUNA Mutual, and Michael Goodwin, president of the OPEIU, were scheduled to meet late last week to iron out the details of the new contract, but both sides were confident the long impasse was near an end. "We're optimistic that we're going to have a contract by the end of the month, ratified and everything," said John Peterson, chief negotiator for the Local 39. "But it could still fall apart."

"There is still work to do, and in the near future, CUNA Mutual and OPEIU will resolve the details," said Sydney Lindner, spokesperson for CUNA Mutual.

Both sides were reluctant to share details of the tentative agreement, but sources indicate it includes a four-year term, average wage increase of 4% a year, and agreements on outsourcing and hours, main sticking points of the negotiations for the past 15 months.

The labor dispute has become increasingly bitter since the March 31, 2004 expiration of the last contract, with the union staging "corporate campaigns," contacting CUNA Mutual credit union customers with negative mailings, and picketing the homes and offices of CUNA Mutual directors.

The company itself has been charged with union-busting activities and has been cited by federal labor authorities for unfair labor practices and bad-faith bargaining. The labor impasse has even resulted in the rare initiative to split the Local 39 into separate bargaining units, which the union has charged the company with fostering. Apparent support for the rare-separation initiative cost former CUNA Mutual CEO Michael Kitchen his job last year after it was revealed that Kitchen had provided money to aid the separation bid.

Kitchen's successor Jeff Post has apparently kicked-started the negotiations, bringing in Hurtgen, a former mediator with the National Labor Relations Board, to revive the contract talks, and expressing a desire the settle the long-simmering dispute with the its labor force.

It was unclear last week what effect a contract settlement will have on the recently created bargaining unit representing white-collar CUNA Mutual members of the Local 39, especially since the chief organizer, Dennis Krull, was recently promoted to management and is no longer eligible to participate in the union. Krull did not return phone calls last week.

During the labor impasse, union numbers have fallen for the local 39, which represented 1,430 of the 2,400 CUNA Mutual employees working in Madison. As of last week the number had fallen to 1,360, according to Peterson.

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