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Working In These Times

Friday, Jul 30, 2010, 10:08 am

Led by SEIU, Union Coalition Tries to Unionize Heart of U.S. Economy

BY Jeremy Gantz

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It's been widely reported that "the Great Recession" was triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis, which in turn was triggered by banks' risky lending practices. Less noted has been the way many major banks managed to originate those bad loans: They paid employees in part on a commission basis.

But what if front-office bank workers weren't paid on a commission basis, and didn't feel so pressured to peddle faulty financial products? If they were protected by a union contract, could banks' risky profit schemes be averted, and the economy protected from another meltdown? The questions can't be answered in the United States, because the country's financial sector is almost completely unorganized: just 1 percent of all bank workers here are union members.

A brand-new organizing campaign by an unusual international coalition of labor union—the Service Employees Intenational Union, Communication Workers of America and the Brazilian Bank Workers Union—aims to change that. In an exclusive feature posted to InTheseTimes.com Thursday July 30, Mike Elk reports on the new campaign, and its nascent attempts to unionize workers at Sovereign Bank in Boston. Last year the bank was purchased by Grupo Santander, the Spain-based banking giant, whose branches outside the U.S. are on average 75-percent unionized.

If Santander employees are heavily unionized overseas, and the company's profits are so robust (it’s the world’s fourth largest bank by profits), then why shouldn’t American workers also join a union? Check out "Too Big Not to Organize" now.

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he worked as a reporter for The Cambodia Daily in 2007. After graduating from Carleton College in 2004, he lived in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright scholarship, studying the intersection of ethnic politics and public education. His articles have also appeared in Chicago-area newspapers, Alternet and the Onion’s A.V. Club.

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