Disagreement Over What Petition Means

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A new petition filed with federal labor authorities by dissident members of the CUNA Mutual Group union seeking to form a separate bargaining unit could result in the decertification of the union, which has been embroiled in a bitter labor dispute with the company for the past seven months.

"We think it's turned out to be what we told them (union members) originally that it would turn out to be, and that's a decertification," said John Peterson, office manager and chief negotiator for the union, the Local 39 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union.

But Dennis Krull, a CUNA Mutual employee who is heading the effort aimed at separating the professional workers out of the 1,400-member local, insisted last week that a decertification was not the goal but that the amended petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board was a procedural move to facilitate the rare separation initiative. "We're not decertifying. This is a procedural process for the NLRB," said Krull. "We would like to separate and continue to be represented by the Local 39."

However, under the amended petition submitted to the NLRB, union members would vote on whether they would like to dissolve the union and reconstitute it into separate bargaining units, like the one proposed by the dissident group.

Irving Gottschalk, acting Midwest region director for the NLRB, said the effort to divide an existing union into separate bargaining units is a rare one that may be unprecedented in the region.

Under the petition filed by the dissident group, union members would be asked to vote on two major issues, according to Gottschalk. The first would be, "do you want to be represented by a union?" The second would be, "do you want to be part of a bargaining unit that includes non-professionals?"

While Krull maintains his group is not trying to decertify the union, that is clearly a major possibility of the proposed ballot, according to Gottschalk. A majority vote on the first question would result in the decertification of the current union, he explained.

And if the vote to separate results in the decertification, it would be at least a year before the union could reorganize, under federal labor law, he added.

200 Have Signed

About 200 members of the union have signed the petition submitted to the NLRB. The dissident group maintains the separate bargaining unit for professionals would represent as many as 600 CUNA Mutual employees, many of them in the IT department.

The NLRB has notified all parties in the case that before it rules on the validity of the petition it will resolve the pending unfair labor practice charges brought by the union, which includes allegations that CUNA Mutual helped initiate the rare separation move.

"Was the company involved in prompting the employees to do this," said Gottschalk, explaining one of the main charges.

One of the claims of proof is an attempt by former chief executive Michael Kitchen to help the dissident group hire a labor lawyer, which caused the board of CUNA Mutual to fire Kitchen after it found out about the offer.

The Kitchen funds were to have gone to help hire well-known labor relations lawyer Thomas Godar, who represented CUNA CU two years ago when its employees successfully voted to oust its union, the same Local 39 of the OPEIU. Godar did not return telephone calls from The Credit Union Journal last week.

Peterson conceded the continued labor strife and the dissident efforts have helped to weaken the union. At least 13 employees have resigned form the union in recent weeks at the urging of the dissident group, and as many as 100 union members have stopped paying dues after the company ceased making automatic payroll deductions when the last contract expired March 31. "It is hurting us financially," said Peterson. The dissident group, he sad, "is helping the company weaken us so we eventually have to cave in."

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