CUNA Mutual workers move closer toward their first-ever strike

In a definitive vote, workers at the Madison-based insurance and financial services company authorized a strike.
A photo shows a group of workers, all wearing blue shirts with the Office and Professional Employees International union logo on the backs, applauding in a meeting hall. A sign visible near the back of the room reads, “Record profits… cuts to jobs and healthcare? Do better, CUNA Mutual.”
CUNA workers applaud members of the union’s bargaining committee, which is now authorized to call a strike, during an April 24 press conference.

In a definitive vote, workers at the Madison-based insurance and financial services company authorized a strike.

By a 92 percent vote, workers at CUNA Mutual have voted to authorize a strike. The vote comes after contract negotiations over healthcare, pensions, wages and the company’s practice of outsourcing jobs to contractors ground to a halt this winter. The Office and Professional Employees International (OPEIU) Local 39, which represents about 450 workers at the company, blames CUNA and says the company has failed to negotiate with them in good faith. If the union does go on strike—a decision membership has authorized its bargaining committee to make—it will be the first time in the union’s more than 80-year history.

At a press conference Monday night at the Madison Labor Temple on South Park Street, union members, elected officials, and community members spoke about the ongoing negotiations, urging the company to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with CUNA Mutual workers. 

“The company is publicly proud of its image as a welcoming and inclusive workforce,” said William Franks Jr., of the Dane County NAACP. “Most of the workforce is white and the leadership is overwhelmingly male.” Franks denounced the company’s rejection of diversity, equity, and inclusion proposals, including a proposal to designate Juneteenth as a corporate holiday, implementing the “Rooney Rule,” which would require the company to interview underrepresented applicants for jobs, and conducting outreach at Black colleges and universities. “How pathetic is that?” Franks said. 


A spokesperson for U.S. Representative Mark Pocan delivered a statement from the congressman criticizing CUNA for firing a union leader during negotiations.

Since January, contract negotiations between the union and the company have deteriorated. The conflict came to a head when CUNA initiated disciplinary action in March against Joe Evica, the union’s chief steward, then fired the union leader on April 4. CUNA also demanded that the bargaining committee convene in-person, rather than remotely, which the union members call a stalling tactic.

The union has filed four unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) since February, alleging CUNA has refused to bargain with the union, retaliated against workers for participating in protected organizing activities, and failed to provide the union with the business information it is entitled to during negotiations. The ULPs are currently under investigation by the NLRB. The strike, if it happens, would be over the issue of the alleged unfair labor practices, giving the striking workers some legal protections; under the National Labor Relations Act, workers striking in protest of unfair practices cannot be fired or permanently replaced. 

In an email to Tone Madison, Barclay Pollak, a spokesperson for the company, writes that CUNA is “steadfast in our commitment to reaching a Collective Bargaining Agreement with OPEIU Local 39,” and that the company “[respects] the decision of our employees to authorize a strike, and we are determined to reach a fair and market-competitive agreement that meets the needs of our employees, our customers and company.” The stalled negotiations also come as the company begins to rebrand under the name TruStage, consolidating its businesses under the same name.

“A big thing that got a lot of people angry or a little more fired up was when Joe [Evica] was put on suspension and ultimately fired,” says Sheila Condron, a financial analyst at CUNA. Condron, who has worked at the company for 37 years, says seeing the union’s chief steward disciplined amid the contentious negotiations had created a hostile “us-against-them” atmosphere. Evica, who was fired in March for allegedly sharing company information, says he was subject to a 4-hour questioning by lawyers from Ogletree Deakins, a well known anti-union firm the company hired to investigate Evica’s case. 

“That four hour meeting was really used to attempt to intimidate me,” Evica says. “They asked some of the same questions in that meeting more than 15 or 20 times each.” In an email to Tone Madison, Pollak writes that “the investigation confirmed that Mr. Evica violated workplace rules regarding data privacy and information handling as stated in the labor agreement.”

Despite CUNA bringing in record profits in recent years, management has brought forward a set of proposals that would cut away at existing provisions in the workers’ contracts, including freezing pension plans for new hires and eliminating HMO options for workers’ healthcare benefits. Chief among the union’s concerns is the business’s practice of outsourcing labor to contract workers who are not protected by the union contract. To this end, the union has pushed to maintain the size of the union by replacing workers with union staff when they retire or quit. 

The company’s use of non-union contractors has eroded the size and power of the unionized workforce over the last decade. The union estimates CUNA currently employs approximately 1,600 non-union contractors. By that estimate, the OPEIU only represents about 20 percent of staff at the company. According to the last contract, which was ratified in 2016, the company agreed to “review with the union current contractors or positions outsourced to determine if the work could be moved back to the bargaining unit and performed by existing or newly hired represented employees.” 

In its latest bargaining proposal in January 2023, the union introduced language to enforce that agreement, recommending a 12-month limit for temporary workers and requesting the company not hire temporary contractors “to avoid filling permanent positions or to avoid creating new permanent positions.” In a counter-proposal, the company struck those provisions from the agreement. 

Given that CUNA is one of the largest employers in Dane County, the labor dispute has drawn attention beyond the ranks of the union. In a resolution passed unanimously on March 21 by Madison’s Common Council, City Alders wrote that the company’s practice of opting for contractors rather than investing in union positions would “diminish quality employment and tax base in the Dane County area” and noted that the company had outsourced more than 1,200 jobs to non-union contractors in the last 20 years. Since negotiations began, union members say that workers who had formerly been listed as “contractors” in the company’s database are now referred to as “consultants.”

Workers at CUNA also say the prolonged dispute has sparked newfound rank-and-file activism in the historically sleepy union.

“I would characterize the unity of the membership as historically high,” says Sarah Larsen, an administrative specialist at CUNA and a member of the bargaining committee. Larsen has spent hours organizing with the union’s “contract action team,” mapping out union membership across the workforce and updating members on the status of negotiations. Members involved with the contract action team—a formation within the union that did not exist before this year —reached out to coworkers not only to relay information about the contract process but to also figure out whether workers were ready to strike. 


The union has never gone on strike or gotten so close; this is the first ever strike authorization vote to pass at the union. 

“We’ve never been smaller, but I don’t think we’ve ever been stronger,” says Larsen. 

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