Unions Try to Get Between Banks and Their Customers

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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

An international labor group brings its campaign to curb sales quotas to the U.S.

Five years ago in Copenhagen, leaders from UNI Global Union, a federation that represents 20 million workers in 150 countries, approved a charter that they’re convinced can help avert another financial crisis.

The labor activists argued that by imposing sales quotas, banks had compelled their employees to sell customers products they didn’t need, with risks they didn’t understand. “We had many, many bank employees who had a crisis of conscience,” says Philip Jennings, who heads the umbrella group, based in Nyon, Switzerland.

UNI’s leadership drafted “sales and advice” provisions, designed to protect bank workers and consumers, and set about trying to get them into union contracts and industry agreements in Europe and South America. Now UNI is setting its sights on the U.S., where the banking sector is virtually union-free.

UNI wants bank workers’ responsibilities conceived as a duty to provide conscientious advice to customers, rather than a duty to sell them as many products as possible. It wants fewer sales quotas, more protections for whistle-blowers, and better training. “It’s important to have a fair relationship with the customer,” says Angelo Di Cristo, an official with the Italian banker union FABI, a UNI affiliate. “They think we are a kind of thief.”

Michael Moebs, chief executive officer of economic research firm Moebs Services, argues that the unions’ focus on quotas is outdated. “It just doesn’t make good business for a bank to put tremendous pressure on its employees anymore,” he says. Mike Townsend, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, says, “Banks are committed to a culture of integrity and credibility and fostering a fair and ethical work environment is a vital part of that.”

Erin Mahoney, an organizing coordinator at CWA, says the union is invested in organizing bank workers to protect its existing members, who are mainly in government and the telecom and airline industries. “We could bargain a contract that has a 5 percent raise for our members,” she says, “but if their home is foreclosed on, or their grandmother has been pushed with three different credit cards, that affects them, too.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.6 percent of employees in finance are represented by a union.

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