OPEIU Local 39 takes to the streets in Madison, WI
Madison, WI – On July 29, members of the OPEIU Local 39 took to the streets once again to demand a better contract from their employer TruStage, formerly known as Cuna Mutual Group.
The union conducted a strike in May after TruStage refused to bargain in good faith and retaliated against the union by illegally terminating their chief steward, Joe Evica, who is still waiting for review of the unfair labor practice charge that was filed in response to his termination.
The strike proved effective, as TruStage returned to the bargaining table in the middle of the strike and started bargaining again. Hopeful that this meant the end of their almost 500-day struggle for a new agreement, the members of Local 39 returned to work. However, as soon as they returned, TruStage canceled the next two bargaining sessions and refused to move on the significant priorities that the union proposed. The company continued threatening to cut pensions for new hires, offering wages that are far below inflation, and salary ranges that haven’t kept up with inflation for 20 years.
“I believe they were trying to demoralize us,” said Liz Kidder, one of those that spoke at the rally. Kidder is a senior claims professional at TruStage and an OPEIU Local 39 member. “They have lied, they have tried to intimidate us, and they have retaliated against us. It didn’t work. We are still here, and we are still fighting, and we are going to get what we deserve and that’s a fair contract.”
The rally took place in the heart of Madison. Marching towards the State Capitol building, the union members and their supporters raised their voices proudly, making their way around Capitol Square. Accompanied by the Forward Marching Band, a community-based and democratic 30-piece activist street band, they garnered attention from the hundreds of people attending the farmers market that morning.
After a few laps around Capitol Square, the march ended at the steps of the Capitol building, where various speakers from the union itself as well as from around the community spoke and stood in solidarity with the workers.
Among the many speakers was the daughter of a Local 39 member, Lilly Anderson, who is in seventh grade. She talked about her perspective as a family member of one of the union members. Her father, Mark Anderson, is a software engineer at TruStage and has been very active in the fight for a better contract, causing him to be busy most Saturday mornings and even weeknights. Anderson talked about how she missed spending time with her dad and how frustrated she was when time and time again she would come home from school and there would still be no new updates about the struggle.
She also commented on how during the strike, though her family was able to get by financially, with her mother taking on a full-time job, there were others who were not so fortunate. “During the strike I heard about other families that don’t have enough money for food. It should have never gotten to the point where people had to make a choice between food and getting treated fairly. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect, everyone.” Then she called on TruStage to, “be fair. These are people’s lives here, it's not just about profit.”
Mike Jones, president of the Educators Chapter of the Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI), a union representing more than 3000 members across three bargaining groups, spoke about how even though his union is considered a public sector and Local 39 is considered private, they are one in the same. They fight for the same things and should always be there to support each other when the time comes.
“As employees and members, you have stood and come through for your community time and time again. You are one of the reasons why my unit and our employees were able to get our cost of living adjusted, because you showed up with the community to support educators in Madison. It is high time that our community shows up and supports you for your fight for what’s right,” said Jones.
Representatives from Voces de la Frontera, who advocate for immigrant workers’ rights in Madison, were also present standing in solidarity with OPEIU as well delivering speeches at the rally.
One of them, Stephanie Salgado Altamirano, said, “It is important that the Madison community sees labor practices or people defending the workers’ rights because we have not seen this much outrage for a company that we pass by every day on Mineral Point. I think that this should not be normalized but instead sensationalized even more and further out so we can be loud and speak louder. Unionizing is something that not a lot of people have knowledge on, but if we see others and how they do it you can definitely learn from them.”
Another representative of Voces de la Frontera, said in her speech during the rally, “We will keep fighting for what is best no matter how many times they change their names. We will not stop marching, not stop organizing, not stop mobilizing. Through our collective work and showing up through compassion and kindness; through our solidarity, through the intersectionality of our work, we will not be divided. Together we will overcome, thanks to you all – the workers, union leaders, allies and families who keep the workers united and fighting against unfair labor practices.”
OPEIU Local 39 has set up a strike fund to help raise additional funds for a potential future strike, so that members don’t feel pressured to cross the picket line for financial reasons even if they support the union. The community can support them by donating to this fund which can be found on their various social media pages as well as sharing Local 39’s story on social media.
For those in the community who belong to credit unions there are also ways to help support there as well. Most credit unions use TruStage products and services (group life insurance, short term disability, etc.) so another way to support the Local 39 struggle would be to reach out to your credit union. Whether you happen to be using those or are offered those services you can ask for the TruStage sales representative at your credit union and tell them that you refuse to use or buy any TruStage products until they start bargaining in good faith with their workforce.
“We know our destinies are interlinked with each other. So, solidarity today, solidarity tomorrow, and solidarity forever,” said Mike Jones of MTI.