Bank Workers Win Historic Union Contract

3-year deal secures fair minimum wage and increased benefits, expanded training opportunities and a joint labor-management committee
Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Beneficial State Bank employees are the first in 40 years to set their own work conditions in the industry

CALIFORNIA — Ending a nearly 40-year drought of union contracts in the banking industry, employees at Beneficial State Bank across Washington, Oregon and California ratified their first contract, after forming a historic union for the industry in March 2020. The 96 workers in the bargaining unit are represented by the Communications Workers of America and include bankers, consumer loan servicing representatives, loan processors, underwriters, file clerks and custodial staff.

The contract secures a fair minimum wage for both hourly and salaried employees and improvements to employees’ 401ks; ‘just-cause’ discipline establishing due process and protection from unfair discipline; the establishment of a quarterly Joint Labor-Management Committee where members are empowered to problem-solve a range of workplace issues; expanded training and education opportunities; and a $1,000 ratification bonus to be issued one-time for all workers in the bargaining unit.

“Prior to working at Beneficial State, when I was a call center worker at Wells Fargo, I didn’t know it was possible for bank workers to form a union, let alone negotiate a contract with management. At Wells Fargo, I was constantly under extreme sales pressure and knew that if I spoke up, I would be putting my job at risk,” said Desiree Jackson, an Assistant Vice President at Beneficial State’s Oakland, Calif. Branch. “Now, not only do I have a voice on the job, but I have an actual say when it comes to pay and metrics and ensuring we’re providing the best financial services possible for customers. With this contract, we’re truly driving Beneficial State’s mission to help serve our communities.”

Frontline workers with the Committee for Better Banks (CBB) have been working to improve conditions in the U.S. banking industry, which is notorious for its systemic discrimination, low-wages, extreme sales goals and whistleblower retaliation. Only 1.1% of workers are represented by unions.

“Our union contract reflects the joint effort by Beneficial State workers and management in pushing for a better banking industry, and I applaud the company for understanding that business is better when workers have a seat at the table,” said Michele Hunt, a Customer Care Specialist at Beneficial State’s Oakland, Calif. branch. “Beneficial State has set the bar here, and now we’re fighting to make sure that bank CEOs across the U.S. follow their lead and recognize all bank workers’ right to organize. It’s time all banks start putting their workers and customers first.”

Workers at Beneficial State Bank and members of CWA made the first historic stride last year, when they became the first bank workers in 40 years to vote in favor of forming a union. This triumph followed a genuine commitment from Beneficial State Bank’s management to remain neutral during the organizing and recognize their union upon verifying a majority signed union cards.

“This union agreement demonstrates that the financial industry can empower its workers and remain successful. We're glad to demonstrate that the classic dynamic of workers versus management doesn't have to exist—it can be workers and management collaborating to work toward a better banking industry,” said Beneficial State Bank CEO Randell Leach.

The Committee for Better Banks, which initiated the organizing efforts at Beneficial State Bank, is leading campaigns to improve working conditions across all the major U.S. banks. During the Covid-19 pandemic, CBB’s scorecards have assessed the U.S. banking industry’s performance across a range of issues, from mortgage forbearance to diversity, equity, and inclusion. CBB has long advocated that empowered workers will strengthen oversight of our financial institutions and that collectively they can assist in providing vital information for regulatory efforts.

At the start of the Biden-Harris administration, CBB developed specific policy recommendations to support the administration’s overarching goals to empower workers, advance racial equity and foster a safe and sound financial system for all Americans. The recommendations included increasing frontline worker participation in the feedback process to federal regulatory agencies, relevant to their examination and supervision of financial institutions; prioritizing access, inclusion and accountability within banks’ culture; and streamlining enforcement to empower workers.

“Beneficial State workers have done the hard work here, establishing the first union and union contract in the banking industry in decades. Now it’s time for bank executives nationwide to follow suit and start supporting bank workers’ rights,” said CBB Co-Lead Director Nick Weiner. “Earlier this year, when Sen. Sherrod Brown asked bank executives whether they would fight employees’ organizing efforts, the responses were evasive at best and hostile at their worst. This is unacceptable and a harm to employees as well as American consumers. That is why CBB fully supports the introduction of the Financial Services Worker Bill of Rights Act and calls for its swift passage.”

“I am incredibly proud of workers at Beneficial State Bank, who despite unprecedented times, used their collective power to secure improved working conditions and democracy in their workplace,” said CWA Local 7901 President A.J. Mendoza, which represents Beneficial State Bank employees in Oregon and Washington. “Workers seeking to negotiate a first contract can find themselves facing union-busting operations who knowingly violate antiquated labor law, and this historic victory at Beneficial State shows a different way is possible. The bank has set the bar high in respecting workers’ rights to organize and these workers have won a more equitable future for themselves and shown what is possible in the banking industry more broadly.”

“This contract marks an important moment not just for Beneficial State workers but for management who knows that an open dialogue with employees supports the bank’s mission to serve customers,” said Keith Gibbs, President of CWA Local 9412, which represents Beneficial State Bank employees in California. “I am very proud of Beneficial State workers for taking an important step towards a more just and equitable banking system, and I am optimistic that this is only the start of a larger conversation for the industry.”

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About the Committee for Better Banks:

The Committee for Better Banks, the only independent voice for frontline bank employees, is comprised of bank workers, community and consumer advocacy groups, and labor organizations, coming together to improve conditions in the banking industry. Committee for Better Banks members include current and former employees of banks and credit unions across the country, including Wells Fargo, US Bank, Santander, Bank of The West, and Bank of America.

About the Communications Workers of America:

The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech and other fields.