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MADISION, Wis. – Don’t expect the labor dispute at CUNA Mutual to magically come to an end any time soon. Based on the information coming from each side, it looks like the stalemate could continue for some time. The good news is the two sides have agreed to negotiating sessions on Nov. 5, 9, 12. While these don’t guarantee anything, the two parties have had difficulty just getting to the meeting table, so the meetings are viewed by both sides as a positive. The last time they met was in late August. CUNA Mutual is sticking steadfastly to its latest offer, which was last updated on June 30. The company has said time and again that it believes this offer is the best thing for the union employees and the company’s future and it deserves ratification. It touts the fact that the three-year deal represents a $23 million increase over the last year of the last contract. “The wage and benefits package is one of the best in the area,” said CUNA Mutual Spokesperson Sydney Lindner. The union is concerned that the company won’t budge from the offer. “It’s pretty scary that they don’t seem willing to even make changes. How do you negotiate like that?” said OPEIU Local 39 Business Manager John Peterson. The company says it will meet all its obligations to negotiate, but believes the current offer at least deserves to be voted on by union membership. Last month the union said it sent a detailed survey to its union members, questioning them on over 60 points of the contract, trying to gauge what they did and didn’t like about it. According to the union, the results indicate that its members only conceded three areas of CUNA Mutual’s plan that they thought were on target. They are short-term disability, improved 401K and the enhanced Group Life Plan. The union did note that on wages, while still a minority, nearly half of members were pleased with the wage package the company is offering. “The survey confirms that CUNA Mutual’s final offer, even with the June 30 amendments, falls short. Employees answered Mike Kitchen’s call in 2002 to give up the 3.75% wage increase, give up the Christmas bonus for two years, sell vacation at half its value and increase out-of-pocket expenses under the medical insurance plans. The employees responded to the company’s need and it is time for CUNA Mutual to answer the employees’ needs,” the union wrote in a notice to members. Interestingly, while the union for months was saying former CEO Mike Kitchen was the major impediment to getting a deal done, it’s now changing its tune. “In some ways we wish he was back. We’ve seen no movement from Holley,” said Peterson referring to acting CUNA Mutual CEO Jeff Holley. “Had Kitchen not been fired we would have had a contract in August. There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Peterson. CUNA Mutual noted that Holley is well aware of what’s happening with negotiations, but does not actively participate in negotiating sessions nor did Kitchen. Peterson said many years ago CEOs like Dick Heinz and Bob Curry would often sit down at the table, but the tone has changed since those days. On Oct. 28 OPEIU President Mike Goodwin attended a Local 39 meeting in Wisconsin and among other things said the corporate campaign against the company is back on. The campaign was temporarily halted after two off-the-record meetings between Goodwin and Kitchen over the summer. According to the union, these off-the-record discussions were leading to a deal, but Kitchen was fired before that could happen. The union claims that Goodwin has reached out to CUNA Mutual Chairwoman Loretta Byrd and Holley to hold similar discussions, but was rejected. CUNA Mutual is of course disappointed that the corporate campaign is back on. “It’s beyond logic why they would want to harm the company that provides their members with jobs. A loss in customers equals loss in revenue, equals expense reductions, which means fewer jobs,” said Lindner. Putting the corporate campaign and rhetoric aside, what are the main sticking points between the two sides? Peterson said the primary problems the union has with the proposal is it takes away the union’s rights to negotiate changes to the health insurance plans, whether it be plan design or how much an employee has to pay for their coverage. CUNA Mutual concedes that it does take away rights in this area, but says that it has buffered against this by putting in cost caps, so employees know they will not pay above a certain amount for their health coverage. “The union’s loss of right to negotiate this is why we’ve offered the cap. For both medical and dental, there would be no more than a 15% increase in employee premium contributions form the prior year for each plan,” said Lindner. She stressed that the company is making changes to the plans to be fiscally responsible and try and cut rising healthcare costs. She said under the new plan union employees would have the same health care options as management. There would be three plan options, instead of five, and costs can be as low as $15 per month for individuals and $80 per month for family. The union is also against the contract taking away its rights on outsourcing. Peterson says the contract will allow the company to rely more on outsourcing and less on union employees. Lindner says that’s not true. While the contract does not permit formal negotiations, it does permit discussing outsourcing and if the union and company can’t agree, an arbitrator will be brought in to decide the matter. So ultimately, says Lindner, the arbitrator, not the company, will decide outsourcing issues. Both sides admit the labor dispute has hurt them. CUNA Mutual has been fighting a PR battle both locally and nationally and has lost some business. Lindner said some customers encourage the company to just reach a quick settlement, while others applaud CUNA Mutual for trying to ensure the next contract is the best thing for the company’s financial health. Meanwhile the union says it has lost 100 members since the negotiations bogged down in March. Peterson says many left the company, while others broke from the union. He said CUNA Mutual is not replacing those lost employees. CUNA Mutual has a different take, saying only 36 union employees have gone away, and they will replace positions that it deems necessary. The union was also hurt by a group of union members filing with the National Labor Relations Board to form their own bargaining unit. [email protected]

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