After about eight years of seeing Main Street households get owned by Big Finance, front-line bank workers are now trying to reclaim Wall Street, branch by branch. In Los Angeles, where communities are still reeling from the financial crisis, front-line bank employees, and activists last week occupied the lobbies of Wells Fargo and Bank of America and demanded fair terms for the customers and the workforce.
As we’ve reported previously, bank workers have been organizing to demand more equitable banking practices for those buying and selling some of the most lucrative financial products at the community level. The coalition advocates for consumer and labor justice collaboratively, because they believe financial institutions cheat both sides of the industry by driving struggling bank workers to manipulate consumers with predatory marketing.
The Committee for Better Banks, a campaign led by community groups and Communications Workers of America, last week delivered an 11,000-plus-signatory petition to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, along with a letter stating that workers faced “pressures to meet sales quotas under strict monitoring and threat of losing their jobs, often forcing them to push unnecessary products and fees on to their customers, causing them stress and financial hardship,” and that loan servicing departments have been using similar tactics to push consumers toward riskier products they can ill afford.
As they campaign nationwide against bank conglomerates, the committee hopes to introduce a new bottom line to the industry: the idea that front-line financial-service workers “deserve a fair share of the profits our work creates,” and that tellers and retail bankers should play “a critical role in ensuring fair banking practices and protecting our customer.”
While the quotidian transactions that these financial workers usually handle—opening accounts, selling property insurance, giving everyday financial planning advice—aren’t moving millions in assets, they have a massive impact on the overall economic health of the community. And since the communities they serve hemorrhaged much of their wealth during the recession while bank bosses got bailed out, community advocates seek to hold big banks accountable for systematic financial predation that disproportionately impacts black and Latino households and neighborhoods. To help rebalance the scales at Wells Fargo in LA—recently sued by the city on charges of “unlawful and fraudulent conduct”—the coalition wants the bank to overhaul the sales quota system, “re-design the sales model to create positive incentives for meeting customer service needs,” and, for troubled mortgage holders, provide principal reduction to ease debt burdens.