Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. employees represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 35 are leafletting in front of the company’s downtown headquarters this week to express their concerns about the company’s alleged attempts to replace their jobs with outsourced and temporary workers.
There are about 1,000 union-eligible employees at Northwestern Mutual, most of whom work in clerical office jobs and trades. Local 35 has about 300 active members from Northwestern Mutual, which is an open shop.
The three-year collective bargaining agreement between Local 35 and Northwestern Mutual expired Feb. 28. The parties have met 13 times, but have been unable to agree on a new contract, said Alesha Monk, president of Local 35.
Northwestern Mutual has asked the union to allow outsourcing or subcontracting of all jobs in the bargaining unit, Monk said. It has refused.
Monk said there are currently about 375 temporary workers filling union-eligible jobs at Northwestern Mutual. The union would like to see those workers offered full-time jobs so they can gain benefits and higher wages.
“With the leafletting, it’s informational,” Monk said. “So we’re letting the community know and some of the employees that are in Northwestern Mutual that are unaware that Northwestern Mutual isn’t keeping the agreement that they made to get the $50 million in the tax break. Once the community is informed, then they can make informed decisions on any actions that they take at that point.”
The $50 million refers to tax increment financing Northwestern Mutual received from the City of Milwaukee in 2013 for the construction of its new $450 million, 32-story Tower & Commons building in downtown Milwaukee. As part of that tax increment district, Northwestern Mutual was to retain 1,100 employees based at the site and add another 1,900 employees to its downtown campus by 2030.
“Northwestern Mutual’s goal is to outsource and continue to use temporary agency workers instead of permanent employees until there are no jobs left in Milwaukee,” Monk said. “This could happen unless we all stand up and demand that the company provide its hardworking employees with the job security and respect they deserve.”
Northwestern Mutual spokeswoman Betsy Hoylman declined an interview request, but released the following statement:
“We are committed to Milwaukee and have had a respectful relationship with OPEIU Local 35 for more than 40 years. Our practice has been to use flexible staffing to ensure we are meeting the needs of our clients, especially during peak times. We have not used temporary labor to replace union-eligible employees, and we remain fully committed to continuing that practice with OPEIU Local 35.”