Bank Workers Win Historic Union

New union at privately-owned Beneficial State Bank represents groundbreaking momentum for U.S. financial sector
Monday, March 2, 2020

Union recognition follows efforts by frontline employees across major banks, with the Committee for Better Banks, to establish labor and consumer protections

CALIFORNIA – Today, the Communications Workers of America announced that a majority of bank workers at Beneficial State Bank chose to form a union, becoming the first U.S. bank workers in decades to win union rights.

The financial services industry, which is plagued by systemic problems of discrimination, low-wages, extreme sales goals, and whistleblower retaliation, has the country’s lowest percentage of union representation. Employees across the U.S. banking industry, from bank tellers to call center workers, have joined the Committee for Better Banks to demand better labor standards and consumer protections to avoid the disastrous 2008 financial crisis and the 2016 fraudulent accounts scandal at Wells Fargo, which Wells Fargo employees in the Committee exposed.

One hundred thirteen Beneficial State Bank employees will join the Communications Workers of America, a coalition member in the Committee for Better Banks — gaining them a voice on the job and crucial tools to speak out for better working conditions, higher wages, and protection from retaliation. The bargaining unit includes bankers, consumer loan servicing representatives, loan processors, and underwriters, to file clerks and custodial staff.

“After nearly two decades at big banks, I was proud to join Beneficial State Bank because of its commitment to invest in its communities,” said Desiree Jackson, an Assistant Vice President in Oakland, California and member of the Committee for Better Banks. “With this historic move to form a union, we’re seeing that commitment to community in action -- and I’m proud to be a part of it. All workers should have a voice on the job to advocate for themselves, their colleagues, and their customers. It’s the right, and fair thing to do.”

The bank, formerly known as OneCalifornia Bank, was co-founded by Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor, the bank’s current board chair and until recently its CEO. It serves families, small-business, and nonprofits across California, Oregon, and Washington. Tom Steyer resigned from the bank’s board of directors in July of 2019.

“With union rights and a voice on the job, bank workers could speak out against unethical and predatory business practices without fear of retaliation. We must value their roles as the eyes and ears of the financial health of our economy. If banks are truly committed to providing the best services to their consumers, then they need to support union rights for their employees so they have a seat at the table,” said Communications Workers of America Organizing Coordinator Erin Mahoney. “Beneficial State Bank is setting a precedent today for the entire banking industry—and we’ll keep organizing workers across the industry to push for this systemic change.”

“All too often the balance of power is tipped unfairly toward the employer, and, as we have seen time and time again, organizations that are primarily focused on maximizing shareholder value may pursue activities that are exploitative of people and natural resources,” said Randell Leach, Interim CEO of Beneficial State Bank. “Fighting these and other power imbalances in the economic system is why Beneficial State Bank exists.”

Prior to the organizing efforts that began in December, Beneficial State Bank agreed to remain neutral during the card check process, and recognize workers’ right to form a union.

Historic Union Signals Potential Sea-Change in the Banking Industry

While union membership in the financial sector is the norm in other countries, with over 3 million bank workers who have union representation globally, in the United States almost no bank workers are represented by a union. No private bank employees have successfully formed a union in over 40 years.

Last year, profits at the nation’s largest banks soared to record highs amid a $38 billion tax handout from the Trump Administration, while the median annual wage for bank tellers nationally languished at $29,450 according to the most recent data available. Instead of investing in their workforces, banks are ramping up layoffs and offshoring to cut corners.

Committee for Better Banks Calls for Bank Worker Bill of Rights

The Committee for Better Banks is calling for a Bank Workers’ Bill of Rights to support the financial security of bank workers, their families, and banking consumers who deserve strong advocates for their savings.

Earlier this month, Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor released a new report, “Financial Exploitation, Bank Workers’ Rights, and the Prevention of the Next Crisis: The Case for a Bank Workers’ Bill of Rights” which calls for union rights for bank workers, a livable wage, workplace protections from harassment and discrimination, and an end to the high-pressure sales and unethical business practices that have come to characterize the sector.

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