Dec 6, 2023 - Business

A third Wells Fargo branch files for a union election

The entrance to a Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Bankers at a Wells Fargo branch in Daytona Beach, Florida, took a key step toward unionizing on Wednesday morning by notifying the National Labor Relations Board that they plan to hold union elections.

Why it matters: It's the third Wells Fargo branch to move toward union elections — a sign that organizing efforts are gaining steam within the bank, the fourth largest in the country.

  • Wells is the only big bank in the U.S. facing serious unionization efforts, as the industry remains relatively untouched by organizing.
  • Only about 1% of workers in the financial industry are in unions.
  • Wells bankers are organizing with the support of the Communications Workers of America.

Zoom in: "We have unanimously come together to form a union...and respectfully urge you to voluntarily recognize our union," the employees wrote in a draft of a letter to the bank's CEO, Charles Scharf.

  • They plan to send the letter, signed by all five of the branch's non-management employees, later on Wednesday.
  • They say their branch is understaffed, forcing them to take on larger workloads and leading to longer customer wait times.
  • "We don't have enough employees to do our job properly," said Corinne Jefferson, a banker who led organizing efforts at the branch. "We don't even have time sometimes to take lunch breaks, or, you know, go to the bathroom."
  • Workers are looking for improved staffing levels, wage increases — Jefferson said her hourly wage hasn't budged in five years — and better benefits.

The other side: When asked Tuesday evening about a bank branch in Florida seeking union representation, bank spokesperson Laurie Kight noted that the company was recently ranked No. 2 on LinkedIn's 2023 list of top companies to grow your career. (Axios didn't name the specific branch in the inquiry.)

  • "We strongly believe everyone's individual voice should be heard and that working directly together is the best way to continue to make progress in supporting our employees," Kight said in an emailed statement.
  • Meanwhile, Scharf said this week that the bank plans to get "more aggressive" with layoffs.

Catch up fast: Last month, Wells bankers at two branches, in New Mexico and Alaska, also filed for elections at the NLRB. The agency essentially monitors and oversees those votes.

The big picture: For workers, these elections are one of the first hurdles in a long race. If they vote to form a union, the next leap involves negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the bank.

  • Other recent seemingly successful unionization efforts, including at Amazon and Starbucks, have so far stalled out at that step, after enormous pushback from those companies. 

Meanwhile: The CWA says that Wells is also pushing back. On Tuesday, flyers went out at the two organizing branches urging workers, "Don't be the union's bait," according to a copy viewed by Axios.

  • The flyer says that CWA has had "little success" organizing the banking industry and that they're only using bankers to lure their real target, workers at the Wells call centers.
  • "While they make big promises now, what will happen once they move on to other, larger groups of employees," reads the memo, suggesting the branch workers won't be a union priority.
  • The bank declined to comment on the flyers.

What to watch: Scharf and other Big Bank CEOs are testifying before a Senate committee on Wednesday morning — worker pay and rights are among the topics that may be discussed, per Reuters.

Go deeper: Why Wells Fargo is the only big bank where workers are trying to unionize

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