Santander Bank employees demand right to join a union

Santander Bank employees on February 21 rallied in Boston and Dallas for the right to join a union.

Santander Bank is an international banking corporation headquartered in Spain. In the US, its bank branches are located mainly in the Northeast. It also owns a subprime consumer loan company called Santander Consumer USA that operates out of Dallas.

In 2016, Santander Bank’s holding company reported profits of $5.9 billion.

Santander bank employees were joined at the rally by consumer rights advocates. They all belong to the Committee for Better Banks (CBB), a coalition of bank employees and consumer advocates working together to improve conditions in the banking industry for both employees and customers. CBB is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America.

At the February 21 rallies, bank employees and consumer advocates, delivered letter to Santander executives demanding that they respect their employees right join a union.

One of the reasons that bank employees say they need a union is that banks like Santander often pit the interests of employees against the interest of customers.

“Our neighbors and communities trust us to help them–whether it’s with a loan or saving for their kid’s college tuition–but Santander executives choose to put us in an impossible position between providing for our families and doing what’s best for our customers,” said Peggy Spencer, a Santander Consumer worker in Dallas. ” Today, we’re taking our first major step to winning a voice on the job, improving working conditions, and putting an end to discriminatory, deceptive practices that are holding back thousands of families.”

Like other large banks, Santander has been accused of predatory practices that hurt customers.

In July, Santander paid a $10 million fine after the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) charged it with deceptive trade practices. According to CFPB, Santander customers were given false information about the high cost of the bank’s overdraft protection service. In some cases, customers were enrolled in overdraft protection without their consent.

In 2015, Santander Consumer paid $9.5 million to settle a US Justice Department suit. The suit charged Santander with violating the Service Members Civil Relief Act, which protects service members on active duty from unlawful repossession of their vehicles.

According to the Justice Department, its “lawsuit alleges that Santander initiated and completed 760 repossessions, without court orders, of motor vehicles owned by . . . protected service members.  . . .  By failing to obtain court orders before repossessing motor vehicles owned by protected service members, Santander prevented service members from obtaining a court’s review of whether their repossessions should be delayed or adjusted in light of their military service.”

The settlement requires Santander to pay each service member affected $5000 and help them repair their credit rating.

More recently, a report by CBB finds that Santander’s lending practices are discriminatory.

An “analysis of the bank’s Home Mortgage Lending Act data reported each year to federal regulators reveals a disturbing pattern of racial and economic discrimination in Santander’s home mortgage lending,” reads the report entitled “Denied: An Assessment of Racial and Economic Disparities in Santander Bank’s Mortgage Lending.”

“In 2014, Santander denied more than 26 percent of borrowers of color a mortgage loan, compared to an aggregate 17 percent denial rate by other banks in the same (market areas),” continues the report.

In addition to wanting to help end Santander’s customer service problems, the bank’s employees have their own collective grievances, which are shared by employees of other large banks.

The median average pay for bank tellers is a little more than $26,400 a year. Pay among tellers is so low, reports CBB, that one-third of tellers nationwide qualify for some sort of public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid.

Higher level employees have their own salary-related grievances. Their salaries are often determined by whether they meet unrealistically high sales quotas, putting pressure on them to sell unwanted and sometimes expensive services to their customers.

To address these grievances, bank workers need a union, say union supporters, and they want Santander to extend to them the same rights that Santander employees in other countries enjoy.

Santander operates throughout Europe and South America, and 150,000 of the bank’s employees on these two continents are union members.

“In Brazil, workers are partnering with management to promote customer service and ethical sales and to prevent predatory practices that force workers to push unnecessary products on their customers,” reads a statement by CBB. “In Europe, Santander jobs are stable, middle-class jobs that allow workers to care for their families.”

Santander employees in the US want the same things.

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