Breaking down the union-busting letters Wells Fargo has sent branch workers
When employees try to organize a union for a better and more secure job, employers often fight back in the form of union-busting. Wells Fargo, unfortunately, has proven to be no different.
Union-busting is any action by management to prevent employees from exercising their right to organize. Union busting attorneys train supervisors on what to say to persuade workers to vote down a union. The “script” changes so little, CWA even has a guide to walk through the different steps.
Here are copies of a few of the recent letters sent out by Wells Fargo to employees at the branches that have filed for union election:
Management says these things because every time workers form a union, it puts new and greater pressure on employers to improve pay and working conditions. But if unions really were so bad for workers, why would employers bother spending time and money to fight against employees exercising their right to organize?
Well Since You Asked…
Wells Fargo’s recent anti-union propaganda challenged the union to respond to a series of questions. We’re proud to respond to these questions, and are glad for the opportunity to brag about some of the achievements we’ve won in recent years.
If you or your coworkers have any questions of your own, feel free to reach out and we’ll be happy to address them.
“What experience do you have with unions in the banking industry?”
CWA is part of a global network of bank worker unions called UNI Global Union Finance where most bank workers already belong to unions and routinely engage in collective bargaining and share that expertise with CWA. These unions have sent letters and videos applauding, admiring and encouraging Wells Fargo workers to win what millions of bank workers around the globe already have - a union. Here is a video with a sample of the many statements of support:
Through our Committee for Better Banks campaign, CWA is the only labor union in the United States actively supporting workers in the financial services sector to form unions and build collective power. Workers at a growing number of banks and credit unions have formed unions and joined CWA, including at Beneficial State Bank, Genesee Federal Credit Union, City of Boston Credit Union, Lake Michigan Federal Credit Union and others.
Beneficial State Bank’s CEO Randall Leach even released the following statement applauding the workers forming a union, stating that it’s helped the bank overall:
Unionization has been making headlines lately, with highly visible organizing efforts at some of the nation’s most well-known companies. These stories tend to capture an antagonistic relationship between employer and employee, exacerbated by union-busting tactics and us-versus-them narratives.
As the CEO of the first U.S. bank to unionize in over 40 years, I learned firsthand that it doesn’t need to be this way. In fact, if business leaders want happy employees and good business outcomes, they’ll need to embrace a more collaborative and compassionate approach–one centered on worker empowerment.
The Communications Workers of America approached Beneficial State Bank in 2019, seeking to represent the employees of a mission-driven bank that fostered an environment of employee engagement and collaboration. From the outset, bank management agreed to remain neutral during the organizing process and voluntarily recognize the union if adopted. While we didn’t know then if unionization was the right choice for our employees, we chose to stand by our commitment to worker empowerment and self-determination to let them decide.
Over 100 Beneficial State Bank employees joined the union in March 2020, and we reached an agreement soon after. Rather than thinking in terms of winners and losers, we saw this as yet another opportunity to empower our workers. 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 shared goal.
Unfortunately, it’s not common for banks to give their employees a safe and powerful platform from which they can speak and truly be heard by management. Profits and shareholder desires are often prioritized over the needs of employees, many of whom deal with stressful conditions and low wages. The median pay for bank tellers in the U.S. is just over $17 an hour–so low that 31% of bank employees surveyed in one study rely on some form of government assistance.
Meeting the needs of employees does not need to result in conflict, even when unionization is involved. Employers, particularly in the banking industry, have an opportunity to engage their employees to create a better workplace and produce better outcomes for the business and its customers.
In addition, CWA through the Committee for Better Banks is leading campaigns to improve working conditions across all the major U.S. banks. During the Covid-19 pandemic, CBB’s scorecards 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.
“Can you show me a contract you have negotiated with a bank with better overall wages/benefits than what I receive from Wells Fargo now?”
The contract negotiated between CWA and Beneficial State Bank included 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 issued one-time for all workers in the bargaining unit.
Desiree Jackson worked at Wells Fargo prior to leaving to work as Assistant Vice President at Beneficial State’s Oakland, California branch, and can share first hand how the benefits compare:
“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. 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.”
“How much are union dues? Can you show me the breakdown of how dues are spent by the union? What happens if I'm a union member and am low on money for a month and can't pay dues?”
With things the way they are today, you can't afford NOT to have a union. The improvements in pay and benefits which you can only win with a strong union will more than offset the dues you pay—plus you’ll get the improved treatment and respect that comes with a union contract. Finally, no one pays dues until they've voted to approve a first contract.
Dues are a very small percentage of pay. Union dues will not be collected until our first contract is negotiated and voted in. If the first contract is not voted in by us, we go back to negotiations. Dues will not start until we have voted to accept a contract. Union dues for most CWA members, paid biweekly, are set at 1.3 percent of a member’s base pay (i.e., if your biweekly base wages are $1,200, your dues would equal $15.60 biweekly). But you do not pay any dues until you are covered by a contract.
“Do you have local union officers who have experience in the banking industry?”
Of course, union members elect your own Shop Stewards and officers to help enforce your union contract. Desiree Jackson is one of the shop stewards at Beneficial State Bank. In fact, in 2021 her expertise was sought by Maxine Waters, the Chairperson of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee to Testify at a Committee Hearing, “The Future of Banking: How Consolidation, Nonbank Competition, and Technology are Reshaping the Banking System”, 117th Cong. (Sept. 29, 2021).
You can watch her testimony here.
“Will you guarantee in writing I will not lose any of the wages and benefits I have now as a result of collective bargaining?”
A union contract IS a written document guaranteeing you your wages and benefits. Without it, Wells Fargo’s talk is just empty promises. A legally-binding guarantee in writing negotiated between the union and Wells Fargo is literally what we are asking for. Currently all Wells Fargo employees are at will and can be fired for any reason, and your benefits can be changed based on the whims and priorities of the company with no input or approval from you. Without a union contract any employer can reduce wages and benefits at any time for no reason at all.
“Will you guarantee that I can work without any repercussions if the union calls a strike and I don't want to strike because I need to earn money to pay my bills, and I don't want to negatively affect my customers?”
Workers join CWA to improve their jobs, not to strike. In 97 percent of cases, CWA negotiates contracts without a strike.
The union doesn’t “call a strike,” only workers themselves can decide to strike. In CWA, a strike can only be called by a majority of the workers who would be directly involved—and only in a secret-ballot vote. You decide to go on strike as a group, or not, it’s your decision and your vote. Plus, strikes are only successful if workers are united, so if everyone is not on board to go on strike, there’s no reason to do it because it won’t be effective.
CWA has a Defense Fund to support strikers. In that tiny percentage of cases where a strike becomes necessary, CWA members receive strike support from the multi-million-dollar CWA Defense Fund. Further, all unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, including CWA, have established a UNION PLUS Hardship Help for Union Families. You can find information on all of the assistance programs here: https://www.unionplus.org/benefits/hardship-help
And guess what, Wells Fargo knows all of this because Wells Fargo actually participates in this program with CWA and other unions by providing mortgage assistance to union families. So why is management withholding this information? You can find out more here: https://www.unionplus.org/benefits/home-auto/wells-fargo-mortgage-program
“Why hasn't the CWA been able to protect unionized jobs in telecommunications?”
CWA’s fundamental purpose is to allow workers to mobilize together to advocate for each other and protect good jobs. A better question would be why has Wells Fargo continued to close branches despite the obvious need for them in the communities they serve?
CWA members at AT&T and other telecommunications companies fight to protect their jobs everyday. They have formed a “Broadband Brigade” that helped secure billions of dollars of telecommunications infrastructure investments in President Biden’s Infrastructure bill that he signed into law last year. Here is a White House Fact Sheet: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/06/26/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-announces-over-40-billion-to-connect-everyone-in-america-to-affordable-reliable-high-speed-internet/
Finally, CWA has helped over 132,000 workers achieve representation over the last ten years. In CWA, you will be part of one of America’s largest and most diverse unions. We work not just in the communications and information industries, but also in the news media, the airline industry, broadcast and cable television, public service, higher education and health care, manufacturing, high tech, and more.
“Can you guarantee that there will be a just cause provision in the collective bargaining agreement and that I will have job security?”
Union members vote to ratify your own union contract, no one else. So making “guarantees” prior to union members voting on your own contract is unlawful. But the concept of just cause and provisions that establish a fair grievance procedure to resolve conflict and disagreements are fundamental to all collective bargaining agreements, so workers generally prioritize just cause in their contract negotiations. Is Wells Fargo management making implied unlawful threats again?
If unions really lead to worse benefits, why doesn’t Wells Fargo want to get the union in now so they can start saving money?