CWA Turns Up Pressure on Banking Industry

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By Ben Penn

June 10 — Banks require their retail workers to meet aggressive and unethical sales quotas, the Communications Workers of America charged as it tries to organize a barely unionized industry.

Several bank employees at a Capitol Hill briefing said they face pressure to push products, such as credit cards, that may not be in consumers' best interest. The CWA, which convened the event and subsequent meetings with lawmakers, highlighted the workers' stories in an effort to convince the companies to agree to union representation of tellers and other retail banking employees.

The CWA is “maybe still a little ways off before a formal request for neutrality” is made to the large U.S. banks, Shane Larson, the union's national legislative director, told Bloomberg BNA after the briefing. Rather than collect signed union authorization cards at individual branches, the focus is on “giving bank workers an opportunity to come together and share their common stories and concerns,” Larson said.

“In a way, it’s a nontraditional organizing campaign,” he added. “It's not like we’ve targeted one specific work location in one specific city and are trying to get a majority of cards.”

Besides the union-owned Amalgamated Bank, Larson said he's not aware of any other bank whose U.S. workers are represented by a union.

The CWA is part of a coalition of bank workers and advocacy groups, called the Committee for Better Banks, that has been pushing for industry reform (151 DLR A-11, 8/6/15).

The American Bankers Association issued a statement to Bloomberg BNA defending banks' workplace conditions. “America’s 6,000 banks value their employees and pride themselves on providing a work environment that promotes fairness, open lines of communication and sound customer service,” spokesman Mike Townsend said in the e-mailed statement. “Banks set a very high bar when it comes to empowering employees to offer a variety of products and services that meet the diverse needs of their customers.”

Several major U.S. banking corporations, along with the trade group Consumer Bankers Association, did not respond to Bloomberg BNA requests for comment June 10. Wells Fargo responded by declining to comment.

NELP Highlights Report

The briefing also showcased the results of new research from the National Employment Law Project that chronicles how banks have been profiting at the expense of their frontline employees.

“The people charged with selling these products are low-wage workers, a mostly female workforce, many of whom earn just above the minimum wage and work in bank branches, operation centers and call centers all across the country under aggressive” and “oppressive mandates to sell these products,” Caitlin Connolly, a campaign coordinator with NELP, said at the briefing.

“Aggressive sales goals present a sort of tightrope for these workers, as they balance between tenuously” providing for their families or engaging in unethical or even illegal practices, added Connolly, describing the report's findings. NELP's report was based on interviews with about 75 workers.

Tapping Into Fight for $15

The CWA, meanwhile, hopes to continue to build support for its campaign, even as it encounters behemoth banking corporations with sizable budgets to squelch worker organizing.

Larson said he sees potential for more immediate progress with the foreign-owned banks that have neutrality policies toward labor unions in their overseas operations.

Another reason for optimism is the surprising success of the Service Employees International Union's Fight for $15 campaign for fast-food employees. Although the nationwide series of one-day strikes hasn't led to union representation, organizers have played a key role in state and local minimum wage hikes across the country.

The CWA has been in talks with the SEIU about aligning their campaigns, and they've already “been working with SEIU in a number of locations around the bank worker organizing,” Larson said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

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