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If employers had always treated all their employees fairly and paid equitable wages and provided good benefits, there would have been no need for labor unions. But they didn’t. Not by a long shot! So unions came on the scene to collectively represent workers. Speaking with one strong voice gave employees the clout they needed to get management’s attention. As unions became more powerful, they also became more successful in helping to improve the lot of underpaid, overworked employees. The need for unions to represent employees and make sure they get a fair shake from management is not nearly as great as it was in the days of sweatshops, ridiculously low pay, horrible working conditions, and no benefits, Some unions have done such a good job that if they were honest with themselves they would admit that there is not much more they can do other than continue to monitor the situation on behalf of their membership. Before labor and management got to the point it is at today, there were plenty of black marks on both sides of the negotiation table. For example, some companies refused to bargain in good faith. Others did everything they legally could to keep the union out. Still others worked equally hard to break the union already in place. In more than a few cases, compensation packages were offered that were, to put it mildly, insulting. In countless ways, union employees were treated like second-class citizens. A solid union member could forget about ever being promoted into the ranks of management. On the other hand, some union leaders started to forget who they represented and gave themselves fat salaries, bonuses, and lavish perks that in some well-documented cases even surpassed those of top management. They began to think they should be running the company. Others got greedy and made demands so outrageous that the package that would satisfy them would also put the company out of business. That happened on more than a few occasions. When Eastern Airlines announced they were going belly up, a striking picketer threw down his sign and yelled, “We won!” Won what? Thousands of jobs were eliminated overnight. Which brings me full circle to the current union-management situation unfolding still one more time at the CUNA Mutual Group’s Madison, Wisconsin headquarters. We could fill the pages of this publication with daily, blow-by-blow accounts of “He said,” and ” she said.” It’s already starting to get nasty. Claims and counter claims are beginning to sound a bit outlandish. Credit union people are starting to take sides. Which side often depends on an observer’s personal situation and attitudes towards CMG and unions in general? Because CMG has carved out a huge niche for its self, being so closely allied with all the other state, national, and international credit union groups, they are a major newsmaker in the credit union world. So Credit Union Times will cover them at times like these when they are sparring with the union. That coverage on our news pages will of course be objective and unbiased and not take sides. (For a comprehensive report on each side’s position, see the May 5, 2004 story by editor Paul Gentile.) However, in my opinion, as always happens in these situations, credit unions can end up as the biggest losers. The daily newspapers in Madison are once again having a field day with the strife. The image of credit unions and those organizations representing them is again taking a beating and causing confusion. (The union keeps referring to CUNA Mutual, as CUNA and sloppy reporters don’t pick up the error.) It is impossible not to notice that both sides can and are making an argument for their case. In the process, however, both sides are also making foolish charges and counter charges and employing questionable tactics like the union already filing a complaint with the NRLB. CMG refuses to acknowledge that the person representing them is part of the problem. He is intensely disliked by the union and comes to the bargaining table with a lot of easily documented anti-union baggage. CMG refuses to allow him to talk to our reporters and will not provide a photo of him. CMG also gets uncomfortable when observers comment on the fact that they have hired law firms with union busting reputations. One of these firms played a key role in getting former CUNA Managing Director (President) Orrin Shipe fired during CUNA’s one and only strike. CMG wants more control over decisions affecting their employees than they now have. They see this as a bottom line issue. The union continues to act like a neighborhood bully. Its representatives are so busy arguing for an even sweeter sweetheart deal that they forget to listen. A 37-hour workweek with two daily paid breaks in a first class cafeteria and free underground parking seems pretty cushy. The union refuses to believe that the overall pay and benefits package offered to them is above average for the area. In today’s world, bankers’ hours for that kind of pay with 35 paid days off seem like a heck of a deal to comparable workers in Madison. But to hear the union rep talk, its members are working for minimum wage with few benefits under terrible working conditions for an organization that has a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I understand that the current disagreement is between CUNA Mutual Group and OPIEU and that only they can resolve it. But what is obvious to me is that both sides need to get the job done as soon as possible for the overall benefit of credit unions in Madison, Wisconsin and throughout the credit union world. If either side refuses to budge to reach a reasonable compromise, and a nasty strike becomes the next step, nobody will eventually be declared the winner. But there will be a lot of losers. And management, labor relations will take a step backwards. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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