JEFFERSON CITY, Wis. – Although a strike by union workers at Tyson Foods in Jefferson, Wis. is about to enter its sixth month, little Stoppenbach Credit Union is doing just fine. “The workers know Stoppenbach is their credit union, and they’re taking care of us,” said Catherine Zimmerman, Stoppenbach’s president. “And that’s what credit unions are all about.” Stoppenbach Credit Union opened in 1937 to serve employees of Stoppenbach Meats. There were four employees and $125 in the vault. Today the credit union has about 600 members and $1.3 million in assets, and serves employees of Tyson Foods, the world’s largest meat processor, which acquired the Jefferson plant in 2001. More than 450 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538 in Jefferson went on strike Feb. 28 after unanimously voting down a contract that proposed wage and health care cuts, vacation reductions and other concessions. About two-thirds of Stoppenbach’s members are on payroll deduction; 99% are current or former union members. Yet despite these gloomy statistics, Stoppenbach isn’t seeing loan defaults skyrocketing or having other financial problems. Zimmerman said many of the workers anticipated the strike a few months ahead of time and held off on major purchases. Then when the strike began, they simply quit spending. Those members who are finding it hard to make ends meet are still at least making the interest payments on their loans, or have arranged for short-term loan deferrals. “They’ve taken care of their credit union because they know it’s theirs,” Zimmerman said. There was a little confusion at first, however. As rumblings of an impending strike grew, Zimmerman started getting questions about the soundness of the financial institution and its ownership. Zimmerman called the Wisconsin Credit Union League for assistance, and the League helped her create a paycheck insert that stated Stoppenbach was owned by its members, not Tyson Foods, and that it was well capitalized, being one of the oldest established credit unions in the nation. The inserts appeared in workers’ Feb. 21 paychecks, one week before the union workers walked off the job. Workers appreciated the clarification about their credit union’s ownership and finances and have been nothing but supportive, said Zimmerman. Besides honoring their financial obligations, members have remained courteous to one another while in the credit union, whether they’re union employees or not. “Things on the picket line can be nasty,” she said, “but members respect the fact that they’re not at the picket line when they’re in here. They also respect me – I’m a one-person operation – and they don’t want any friction here in the office to cause trouble for me.” For her part, Zimmerman told members they’re welcome to stop in the credit union for assistance whenever she is there, even though the credit union is officially open just 17 hours per week; it’s the least she can do for them. “Their lives have changed enough,” said Zimmerman, adding, “These are good, strong, hard-working people.” [email protected]

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