After more than 500 days without a contract, TruStage office workers rally at State Capitol

Photo by Omar Waheed.

The fight for a fair contract continues. OPEIU Local 39 rallied again this past Saturday as negotiations between the union and TruStage, formerly CUNA Mutual Group, have yielded no results.

Employees at TruStage, formerly CUNA Mutual Group, represented by OPEIU Local 39, took to the Capitol Square during this Saturday’s Dane County Farmers’ Market to demonstrate and garner support. Employees have gone over 500 days without a contract as negotiation efforts between the union and TruStage continuously teeters between promising and shut down. With now over a year and a half without a contract, union members previously held a strike and multiple rallies.

Union members and their friends and families from OPEIU Local 39, a few groups in support of them and US Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis) voiced their support for a new contract at Saturday’s rally.

“You’re probably thinking what I’m saying is TruStage should come to the table and negotiate a fair contract, but by ethics rules, I can’t say that directly,” said Representative Pocan. “CUNA Mutual has a long history of labor peace working with their employees. I want TruStage to have that as well — and the way it happens is to come to the table to meet more than three times in the next month. Let’s get this done.”

Pocan showed his support for union members in the labor dispute and drew attention to the frequent cancellation of contract negotiations by TruStage. The company has, on multiple occasions, outright canceled or postponed meetings for indefinite amounts of time. When TruStage had followed through with meetings, more often than not it met OPEIU with hostility or an unwillingness to negotiate, according to multiple union members throughout multiple of the rallies and the strike since this past May.

US Rep Mark Pocan speaks at the OPEIU Local 39 rally Saturday. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Recently, TruStage had charges sustained for violating federal labor laws and the union’s collective bargaining agreement. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that TruStage had violated one statute for bargaining in bad faith. The NLRB claims that TruStage had failed to produce information legally required to OPEIU Local 39. The union has nine more charges that it has sent, according to OPEIU Local 39 President Kathryn Barlett-Mulvihill.

“We have never and will never work against our employees or negotiate in a way that doesn’t represent TruStage’s values. We are cooperating with the National Labor Relations Board’s ongoing investigations and will continue to do so. The NLRB has not issued a public ruling on the pending ULP charge,” TruStage said in a statement to Madison365.

As the ongoing negotiations continue, morale of union members is just as strong as ever and community support is right behind them.

“It can be demoralizing. I’m really, really proud of the employees. We’ve been there for 80 years at this company, and this is the first time ever we went on strike,” said Barlett-Mulvihill. “This is probably the strongest employee group we’ve had in decades. They’re still very committed. Are they unhappy about what’s going on? Hell yeah.”

Despite the commitment to see contract negotiations through, the toll has been taken on the family of employees. OPEIU Local 39 has been with TruStage for 80-years now. This is the first time that it needed to go on strike in the near century with TruStage. The daughter of one employee came to speak at the rally.

Lily Anderson, daughter of TruStage employee Mark Anderson’s, voiced her grievances over the lack of progress in negotiations. She misses time spent with her father playing board games and reading Lord of The Rings with him. Lily hopes that it all will soon come to an end so she, and the other families of union members, can spend more time together again.

“I don’t understand why the company won’t meet with the bargaining team very often. If this was really important to them, they should work on this every day until they can agree on a fair contract,” Lily said. “But it seems like every time I come home from school, there’s no update because they weren’t willing to meet with the union and when they were, and when there were updates, they were stupid.”

Members of OPEIU Local 39 rally at the Dane County Farmer’s Market Saturday. Photo by Omar Waheed.

TruStage claims that it is making progress in the past few weeks. Barlett-Mulvihill disagrees, claiming that in the few meetings that have been held, the union has been met with contempt and a refusal to negotiate a fair contract.

“We are encouraged by progress in recent weeks and would like union leaders to work with us to complete a fair deal on behalf of employees. From the start, TruStage has negotiated with our employees’ best interests top of mind. We want our employees to have a fair and market-competitive contract. We also respect the rights of our employees to voice their opinions throughout the process,” said TruStage in a statement to Madison365.

OPEIU Local 39 is willing to strike again if negotiation efforts remain stagnant, Barlett-Mulvihill said.

TruStage is a funder of 365 Media Foundation, the nonprofit organization that publishes Blueprint365.