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MADISON, Wis. – Are things better or worse between CUNA Mutual and its union then they were a few months ago? It depends who you ask, but one thing is certain, the two sides certainly haven’t found any more common ground. In fact the public relations end of the divide seems to be widening. The AFL-CIO, on behalf of the union, sent letters to 5,000 credit unions, with the letter’s overall message being that CUNA Mutual is not negotiating with the union (Office of Professional Employees International Union Local 39) and credit unions want the labor movement on its side, not against it. “We view the actions of CUNA Mutual Group as inconsistent with the goals and traditions of the credit union movement. Sadly, they threaten the long and mutually beneficial relationship between the credit union movement and the labor movement,” the letter state. The letter was written by AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard L. Trunka. This is the first time during the dispute that the AFL-CIO has come out in such a widespread fashion to back OPEIU Local 39. It’s not clear exactly which credit unions received the letter. According to John Peterson, business manager of OPEIU Local 39, a mailing list was purchased from Callahan & Associates, however he did not know if it was the top 5,000 CUs, the bottom 5,000, those in the Mid-West, etc., that are on the list. As part of the letter, the AFL-CIO is asking credit unions to return an enclosed post card indicating whether or not they are a CUNA Mutual customer. The reason the AFL-CIO gives for wanting that information is so it can be sure it keeps customers up to date on the latest developments. CUNA Mutual contends that it has already lost business due to the letters. CUNA Mutual Spokesperson Sydney Lindner said at its least, the letters are annoying its customers, and at its worst some have pulled business or are threatening to do so. The letters have worked both ways. Lindner said there are also many credit unions saying it’s about time CUNA Mutual gets its wage and benefits package more in line with the market. CUNA Mutual believes the letter is part of the union’s corporate campaign against the company. Corporate campaigns are labor initiatives to put heat on employers through a variety of techniques that make the dispute more public. “We need to do something to convince Kitchen and the board to sit down and work this out. Why they have refused to use a mediator is beyond me,” said Peterson. “We just wrote another letter to Kitchen asking to use a mediator.” Lindner said mediation is not an option right now. “Mediation would be fruitless at this point. Mediation only works when two parties are close together. That is not the case here,” she said. Rumors of strikes and lockouts continue, but neither side would confirm any definitive plans. Interestingly, since the union is working off the expired contract, it gives them the right to strike and the company the right to initiate a lockout. Lindner said CUNA Mutual is prepping for any work stoppage. “We have business interruption plans. We have outside vendors on standby. We have managers trained to do represented work,” she said, noting that a lockout is an option for the company. Lindner said a lockout does not require board approval. It is an action management can take at any time. On the other side, the union is preparing for any income loss to its members due to a lockout. Peterson said under Wisconsin state law, lockout employees will be eligible for unemployment. If that were not the case, the union would step in with its payment package. When Will We Meet Again? The two parties haven’t met face to face since May 5, so the ten-thousand dollar question is when will they have another sit-down? Like many things surrounding this dispute, that is another complicated issue. According to Lindner the union has sent in hordes of questions it wants answered in writing first before another meeting is scheduled. She said in total the union submitted 114 questions over three separate submissions. “The questions range from `Did the company consider the impact of the change to 40 hours on Beltline traffic?’ to asking us to provide `all claims for coverage under our health, dental and vision plans made by employees from Jan. 1, 2003 to present’,” Lindner said. Peterson said the union is wiling to forgo all of that if the mediator is utilized. “We want mediation. It doesn’t force anyone to do anything but to sit down and see if the mediator can accomplish anything. It’s not like arbitration,” said Peterson. Peterson boils the dispute down to three areas: language in the company’s contract that takes away union rights, the way payouts and wage increases are structured, and many details to be worked out in the benefits plan. Peterson said CUNA Mutual is hoping union employees drop out of the union because of the dispute. “So far it hasn’t worked. Fewer than 10 employees have resigned membership. Dues are coming in strong,” said Peterson. Lindner said despite the union’s attempts to discredit the company, it still wants to continue to pay above market wages and benefits to employees, and it wants to keep the union “Our view hasn’t changed there,” she said. [email protected]

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