Financial institutions

A look at the organizing efforts of two small financial institutions | Credit Union Journal

It is rare for the staff of a financial institution in the United States to unionize. But the employees of Genesee Co-Op Federal Credit Union in Rochester, New York, did just that — and they’re not alone.

Employee burnout and sluggish wages were contributing factors, but it was ultimately how the credit union handled the paycheck protection program that cemented the decision of Genesee Co-staff. Op to syndicate, according to Nolan Noble, loan officer for the institution with assets of $35 million.

“There had never been a PPP before, so there was no training seminar, there was no real education to learn how to do this, and so we all had to learn it at home. stolen. … So we burned the candles at both ends, and we were able to give out half a million dollars in loans, and that’s for people who were really trying to stay afloat,” Noble said. how far we got was really awesome, but management just looked at us when we were done and said, ‘Hey guys, you did this’, and that was it.”

Genesee Co-Op staff sought to join the Communications Workers of America, a national organization that represents those who work not only in the communications industry, but also in health care, public service, education and Moreover. After nearly four months — and a walkout — the arbitration process ended and the union was formally recognized by CWA and Genesee Co-Op leaders on January 26.

Employees of Genesee Co-Op Federal Credit Union staged a strike during the four-month process that culminated in the formation of their union in January.

Although unions are rare in financial services, there are exceptions, including Amalgamated Bank in New York, which was founded by a union in 1923. The Bank of Labor, with assets of $870 million, in Kansas City, Kansas was founded by a union in 1924 and has been affiliated with the United Mine Workers of America since August 2011.

“Really, everyone just wants to have a fair opportunity to speak up, and we encourage that,” said Robert McCall, president of the Bank of Labor.

A more recent example is the Beneficial State Bank in Oakland, California, where employees voted to form a union in March 2020 after CWA representatives approached executives at the $1.5 billion asset bank about the possibility of forming a labor union for staff. The bank has agreed to a contract finalized last September.

“I think the most important thing was that people [were] not being listened to and our experiences not factoring into how to be treated,” said Michele Hunt, relationship banker at Beneficial.

After the signing, the bank instituted changes to its minimum wage, training, retirement programs and more. He also created a union-management committee to give union members a forum to air their concerns and suggest changes.

When talks to unionize began in 2019, CWA representatives spoke with Beneficial executives and other employees. Nick Weiner, co-director of the CWA-founded Committee for Better Banks campaign, worked to help educate California bank employees about the unionization process and ease concerns about layoff.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there [regarding the right to unionize]. … We were able to talk to Beneficial workers about [the prospect of unionizing] without them worrying about being fired for it,” Weiner said.

Beneficial leaders voted to remain neutral throughout the organizing process and said they would voluntarily recognize the union upon adoption. “This union agreement demonstrates that the financial industry can empower its workers and remain prosperous,” said Randell Leach, CEO of the bank, in a September press release.

Recent interest in organizing in financial institutions and other businesses is a response to many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ileen DeVault, professor of labor history at the School of Industrial Relations and Cornell University work.

“There are all these new groups of workers trying to organize their workplace, and I really think a lot of the current attempts are part of what is a very complex response to the pandemic and working conditions,” said said DeVault. “It has made many workers…realize that they have no power as individuals to demand how they want to be treated.”

For establishments with several sites, organizing a union is more difficult.

Employee needs can vary geographically, which increases the difficulty of organizing and negotiating unilateral changes, according to Thomas Smith, professor of finance practice at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

“I could see it for a small cooperative bank having the ability for people to say, ‘OK, I want to be heard’, [but] I think it would be difficult for [an institution] like a Bank of America or a JPMorgan Chase because it’s spread across so many different regions,” with people in different places having different needs from each other, Smith said. “What happens in Manhattan, New York, might not happen in Manhattan. , Kansas.

Dan Apfel, COO of Genesee Co-Op, said to better align with the credit union’s mission to advocate for a fairer financial system, he and other leaders signed an agreement to remain neutral during the arbitration process and not oppose any proceedings.

“We are a mission-driven financial institution and we advocate for a [fairer] financial system, and so we wanted to try to follow our values,” Apfel said. “The idea is to…really work towards a positive relationship with the union from the start.”

Genesee Co-Op’s unionized employees plan to sit down with board members during budget discussions and propose the establishment of structured salary increases and retirement funds.

“We are completely dedicated to serving underserved communities…and we want to be here and we want to do a good job, and we are committed to that, but the credit union needs to recognize that employees need to be supported as well,” Noble said.