Group Of CMG Employees Says It Has Signatures To Form Unit

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The labor conflict at CUNA Mutual Group intensified last week with a group of employees claiming they had gathered enough support to separate the company's union, the local 39 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, into separate bargaining units.

Dennis Krull, an employee in the company's information technology unit, said they had collected about 250 names on a petition asking that the professional workers be allowed to form their own bargaining unit under the OPEIU. The unprecedented separation of the union would require approval from 30% of the targeted employees, estimated at 450 to 650, by Krull.

"We've got what we need now we're working with (the National Labor Relations Board) on a proposal," said Krull.

The petition was expected to be presented late last week to the NLRB's Milwaukee office, where officials will begin the process of determining which employees qualify as professional.

But representatives of the union, which has been at an impasse on contract negotiations for almost six months, said they will challenge the separation initiative, which they see as an intentional effort by CUNA Mutual to stall negotiations. John Peterson, chief negotiator for the OPEIU local 39, said the petitioners are confusing qualifications for exempt employees, those employees who are exempt from overtime rules, from those that qualify as "professional."

"At CUNA (Mutual) those employees are exempt, but they're not professional," said Peterson. "Once the NLRB looks a that they're going to throw all of those jobs out (from the petition)."

In addition, noted Peterson, the NLRB is going to have to resolve the numerous unfair labor practice charges lodged by the union against CUNA Mutual before proceeding with the separation petition. Among those charges are allegations that CUNA Mutual management, specifically former CEO Michael Kitchen, was involved in or behind the separation bid. "Because Kitchen paid these guys, the whole petition is tainted," said Peterson, referring to Kitchen's offer of money to the dissident employee group behind the petition drive. Kitchen's offer led to his firing last month.

The Kitchen funds, $1,000, were allegedly to go to help finance the hiring of local law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, which represented CUNA CU in the decertification of the same union in 2002. While the funds were returned to Kitchen, the group eventually hired the firm and its partner Tom Godar, who was instrumental in that decertification effort.

Peterson said union representatives doubt the company's insistence in memos to employees that they are serious about pursuing a settlement of the labor strife during the petition drive. "They won't want to negotiate until they see what happens with this petition," he asserted.

Union officials were meeting last week to decide whether to re-start their corporate campaign to discredit CUNA Mutual's negotiating with pickets and letters to CUNA Mutual's credit union customers.

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