Wells Fargo Branches Join America’s Union Push

Workers at two Wells Fargo locations launched efforts to unionize this week, marking a rare unionization effort in the banking world.

Photo by Ernie Journeys via Unsplash

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

If baristas and warehouse workers can do it, why not bankers?

Workers at two Wells Fargo locations launched efforts to unionize this week. While US labor groups have experienced a resurgence in recent years, this latest endeavor is happening in an industry very unfamiliar with the “U” word.

Workers Making Headway

The American worker has made plenty of progress recently following years of setbacks. The Writers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, and the United Auto Workers all held strikes that successfully led to better contracts from their respective employers. But these are all groups that have been around for nearly a century each, and it can be difficult for unions to achieve similar gains when they don’t have that kind of history.

Roughly 10% of the US workforce is part of a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the bulk of that is taken up by teachers and public sector jobs like cops and firefighters. The finance sector is one of the least organized industries with only 1.3% of its employees being members of a union in 2022. But now, a handful of Wells Fargo bankers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Bethel, Alaska, are looking to change that:

  • On Monday, employees at the two branches informed the NLRB they intend to hold elections to decide whether to unionize. In addition to what they feel is poor compensation, workers from the branches told The Wall Street Journal that Wells Fargo didn’t replace employees who left their jobs at the start of the pandemic, which has led to bankers doubling as tellers and longer wait times for customers.
  • Wells Fargo’s recent spate of scandals also served as a motivating factor, organizers told the WSJ, specifically citing a 2016 controversy in which the company set what many employees viewed as unreachable sales goals. That spurred many workers to create fake deposit and credit card accounts without customer knowledge, and, when all the info went public, many employees were fired and Wells Fargo paid a $3 billion civil settlement.

Hired Goons: For groups just getting into the union game, success has been a bit of a slow burn. In April 2022, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, unionized. But since then, Jeff Bezos and company have yet to bargain with the workers, and no other warehouses have unionized. Starbucks employees are now organized at more than 350 locations, but according to the NLRB, the coffee chain allegedly committed more than 1,000 illegal actions including closing stores and reducing shift hours in retaliation to its workers’ union efforts. Sure, it’s not as bad as Ford’s Harry Bennett paying a small army to bust the heads of UAW members, but what is?