Group Seeks To Speed Separation From CMG Union

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White collar members of CUNA Mutual Group's employee union have begun discussions with the Office & Professional Employees International Union aimed at expediting a vote to create their own collective bargaining unit.

The talks are aimed at defining which of the OPEIU Local 39's 1,400 Madison-based members would be eligible to join the new unit, and the parameters for a potential vote on the rare separation initiative.

"We've been talking with the International, not the local, on trying to come to some kind of a resolution but we haven't come to any resolution yet," said Dennis Krull, an IT worker at CUNA Mutual who has spearheaded the separatist movement.

The separatists have submitted a petition to the National Labor Relations Board on their bid to split off from the main bargaining unit, but the federal labor authority has set the petition aside while it tries to resolve outstanding complaints on unfair labor practices lodged by the union against CUNA Mutual. To wait for the NLRB to resolve the petition could take many months. But the union can agree to parameters of a new bargaining unit on its own, according to John Peterson, business manager for the Local 39.

"If we do this internally it may come back positive for separation, it may come back negative. The major issue is who is a 'professional,'" said Peterson.

Krull and his allies, who are frustrated over the lack of a labor agreement with the company, are hoping a new unit representing "professional" or white collar workers at CUNA Mutual could expedite a labor agreement, at least for those workers.

The OPEIU and CUNA Mutual have been at impasse on a new contract for more than eight months and have been without a contract since the March 31 expiration of their last three-year pact.

The separatist group projects that as many as 500 to 600 of the union's 1,400 Madison-based members, those in white collar jobs such as IT, accounting and business analysis, could be eligible for the new bargaining unit. But the union thinks the figure would be much smaller, between 200 and 250, based on the number of people (200) who signed the petition submitted to the NLRB.

Separately, a federal court ruled last week that CUNA Mutual Group violated the collective bargaining agreement with the union last year when it reassigned or terminated 22 union employees and hired an outside firm to clean its corporate headquarters instead.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin also ruled that CUNA Mutual's challenge in the case of an arbitrator's decision in favor of the local 39 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union was frivolous and so ordered the company to pay all of the union's legal fees. "The court ruled that the outsourcing contract was improper under the contract," said Peterson. The court ruled the work has to be returned to the union and the 11 affected workers who took early retirement may return to work, while the other11 who were reassigned may get their jobs back, according to Peterson.

Sydney Lindner, a spokesperson for CUNA Mutual, said the company believed it acted properly in the outsourcing, which saved about $1 million a year. CUNA Mutual, she said, is disappointed in the court's ruling and is exploring an appeal.

The union, which has been at impasse on negotiations on a new contract, recommenced its "corporate campaign," and picketed the CUNA Mutual's Madison offices, and picketed or attempted to picket the homes and the credit unions of four CUNA Mutual directors in Columbus, Ind. (CMG Chairman Loretta Burd), Denver, Honolulu, and Ormond Beach, Fla.

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