The Committee for Better Banks is an advocacy group formed to support front-line workers in financial services, aligned with other advocacy groups in several states along with labor unions including the Communications Workers of America. Its profile was raised at Wells Fargo & Co. in the wake of the company’s dummy accounts scandal, which among other things revealed how much performance pressure employees were under to meet sales and other targets. More recently in Minnesota, the committee has gotten behind proposed legislation called the Minnesota Call Center Jobs Act, which seeks to recapture any subsidies or government benefits that had been provided companies if they move call-center jobs out of the country. This issue has been given more urgency by a recent decision by Wells Fargo to cut roughly 400 jobs at a customer-service center in Shoreview, with layoffs currently underway and extending into January. Alexander Ross, a Wells Fargo employee in St. Louis Park, has been active with the committee.
Q: How did you come to be part of the committee?
A: I got involved in February of 2018. I’d started at Wells Fargo about a year prior to that. I work in Wells Fargo’s bankruptcy center. It’s not exclusively a call center, although we do some inbound customer service work.
Q: What are some issues with Wells Fargo?
A: Wells Fargo this past summer announced that they would be laying off about 400 jobs at the Shoreview call center. In their press release and all subsequent commentary, they said this was due to changing customer needs. A Trade Adjustment Act petition was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, [which in October] issued a finding that those 400 jobs do appear to be being offshored and those people being displaced are eligible for trade-adjustment assistance. Earlier this year, prior to those 400 jobs, we documented about 1,200 jobs that Wells Fargo has offshored over the last couple of years. We know, again from a Trade Adjustment Act petition, that they offshored about 115 jobs from the mortgage-claims department here in St. Louis Park. That wasn’t a call center necessarily, but they were 115 jobs that were offshored. Again, they publicly represented that it was due to changing customer needs. I’m not really sure what their contention is or what that means, but that’s in the story that they’ve told every time they’ve announced these layoffs. (Editor’s note: Wells Fargo has denied in congressional testimony that officials have been dishonest about offshoring jobs or why call-center jobs have been cut; officials said they have disclosed it when appropriate but say part of the growth in overseas call centers is centralization of some services as part of the company’s plan in the wake of the accounts scandal.)
Q: What’s the proposed call-center legislation?
A: The bill is independent of our organization. It has been sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) in the state Legislature, and it’s being supported by the Communications Workers of America. The Call Center Jobs Act goal is to end any grants, loans, tax benefits and state contracts to companies that shift a third or more of the call volume work offshore and out of state.
Q: Has Wells Fargo received any significant government loans, grants or subsidies?
A: It does apply to tax benefits, and Wells Fargo was a very large recipient of tax cuts over the past few years.
Q: What else is the Better Banks group working on?
A: Our main goal is that we want to organize bank workers. Ultimately our goal would be to unionize bank workers. Obviously that’s a goal that’s pretty far off, but meanwhile we are just organizing for workers to have a voice on the job. In response to all the fraudulent account scandal and some of the other scandals, Wells Fargo set up what they call their stakeholder advisory council. It included regulators and community leaders, helping ensure they are remaining accountable. We think that since it was employees organizing with the Committee for Better Banks that initially brought that scandal to light, we think it’s only right that workers should have a voice on that committee. So employees can have a voice to speak … without fear of retaliation. They have not rejected it outright. We’ve had some difficulty nailing down the terms of a meeting to negotiate that. It’s been an ongoing discussion, and we are continuing to press them on the topic. The general message we want to get across is that Wells Fargo is a company that has benefited greatly from tax cuts and in the past year has authorized over $30 billion in stock buybacks, so this is not a company that is hurting. But it’s still planning on laying off up to 10% of their employees, which could be as many as 26,000 nationwide in the next couple of years. We are just trying to push back on that.
Q: The committee is active industrywide, but what are some other issues that you’ve seen the committee try to address?
A: We have committees active pretty much every place that Wells Fargo has a presence. In Minnesota, we have a really active organizing committee in the mortgage-closing division. They were actually successful earlier this year in getting back some bonus pay.