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MADISON, Wis. -It appears that the 351 unionized IT employees of CUNA Mutual will soon have their own separate bargaining unit. In a survey of the IT employees by CUNA Mutual’s union, the Office of Professional Employees International Union Local 39, 199 were in favor of forming the separate unit, with 76 opposed. The next step is for the union to send CUNA Mutual a letter proposing the separate unit. CUNA Mutual has to approve the measure for the unit to be created. At press time, CUNA Mutual had not received the letter and had no comment on whether or not it would approve the new unit. There are a number of interesting sidelights to this story. First, does this make the overall union, stronger or weaker? It’s hard to tell. It would reduce the overall bargaining unit from the 1,300 it is with the IT employees, to about 950. However, the bargaining unit will still be part of the union and have to abide by its rules. When it comes to negotiating with CUNA Mutual, there are things it can and cannot do. The new unit would negotiate on its own and vote to approve a separate agreement with CUNA Mutual, however it will sign the agreement only after the larger bargaining unit has a signed contract. The larger bargaining unit will negotiate company-wide issues such as health care, pensions, hours and wages. The IT group will concentrate on issues specific to it, such as being called to work after hours, something union leaders said the IT group is concerned about. The IT group could negotiate more favorable terms on company-wide issues such as wages and benefits, but can not accept terms that are less than those negotiated by the larger unit. The new unit would not have to participate in the activities of the larger unit. This is crucial, because if, for example, the larger unit agreed to strike, the IT unit would not have to. It would likely be easier for the new unit to decertify from the union if it chose to do so, but no one would comment on that possibility. One of the reasons the IT employees want their own unit is they feel some of the sticking points in the labor dispute do not apply to them, most notably moving employees from a 37-hour week to a 40-hour week as the company has proposed in its offer. The IT group already works a 40-hour week. Ironically, this separate bargaining unit played a role in the sudden resignation of former CUNA Mutual CEO Mike Kitchen. Kitchen allegedly offered leaders of the group $1,000 to obtain legal counsel, which ultimately led to his departure. In terms of the overall labor dispute at CUNA Mutual, it’s as stuck in the muck as ever. There are no new negotiating sessions planned. The two sides are talking however about restoring some housekeeping positions that CUNA Mutual outsourced. This outsourcing was deemed a violation by an arbitrator and later a court; CUNA Mutual is now expected to restore the positions. In related news, OPEIU Local 39 has been touting the fact that it had very little trouble negotiating new contracts with both CUNA and the World Council of Credit Unions. John Peterson, OPEIU Local 39 Business Manager, praised Brian Branch, acting CEO of WOCCU, for personally getting involved in the negotiations, something Peterson said is not happening at CUNA Mutual. Comparing the deals is hard however, given that together WOCCU and CUNA have only about 100 union employees, compared to some 1,300 for CUNA Mutual. [email protected]

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