Union opposes Wall Street takeover of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) has denounced President Trump’s attempt on behalf of Wall Street to take control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

CFPB is the federal agency created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers against the predatory practices of Wall Street banks.

Those practices led to the Great Recession, which cost millions of workers their jobs, their homes, and their livelihoods.

President Trump on November 24 appointed Mick Mulvaney, a longtime opponent of CFPB, as the acting head of the agency after CFPB Director Richard Cordray resigned.

Mulvaney, who is also the director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, sponsored legislation to abolish CFPB when he was a member of Congress.

There is, however, a dispute about Mulvaney’s claim of leadership at CFPB.

According to the Dodd-Frank Act, the law that created CFPB, the agency’s deputy director becomes the acting director when the director is unavailable to serve.

Leandra English is the deputy director and assumed leadership of the agency when Cordray resigned.

English has gone to court seeking a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney’s appointment.

“The leadership battle at the CFPB is part of a larger struggle over whether our country will return to the days when big Wall Street banks could act with impunity and without accountability,” said Chris Shelton, president of CWA in a media release.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, enacted in 2010, established protections meant to stop Wall Street from indulging in questionable financial practices that put the whole economy at risk.

It also protects consumers from unlawful business practices such as the ones carried out by Wells Fargo when the bank enrolled customers in high-cost banking services that customers neither wanted nor agreed to purchase.

“The CFPB has returned over $12 billion to American consumers harmed by Wall Street wrongdoing and has helped to expose the illegal actions of such corporate bad actors as Wells Fargo and Santander,” Shelton said. “The CFPB gives bank employees who are concerned about potentially illegal high-pressure sales tactics a way to voice their concerns without having to navigate a maze of regulatory agencies.”

To maintain CFPB’s integrity, Dodd-Frank established rules of succession for replacing CFPB’s director with an acting director should the director resign.

Those rules say that the deputy director, who is Leandra English, becomes the acting director until the president appoints a new director and the appointment is confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was instrumental in creating the CFPB, told the New York Times that the CFPB succession rules were expressly written to ensure that the agency remains independent of the powerful political influence of Wall Street.

“The agency was built to be as far away from partisan politics as humanly possible — including exactly what Donald Trump is doing now,” said Warren to the Times. “The DNA of this agency is to work for America’s families and to stand up to big Wall Street banks. Mick Mulvaney wants to work for Wall Street banks and step on American families.”

Shelton accused President Trump of “flagrantly flouting the law in an attempt to give Wall Street banks the green light to again rip off American working families.”

“Trump’s attempt to install Mick Mulvaney as acting CFPB director violates the clear language of the Dodd-Frank Act prohibiting him from doing so,” added Shelton.

President Trump justified his appointment of Mulvaney by citing the Vacancies Act of 1998, which gives the president the authority to appoint acting heads of agencies when a director’s position is vacant and the permanent director must be approved by the Senate.

English, on the other hand, argues that she is the legitimate head of CFPB because the law creating the agency clearly spells out the rules of succession that differ from the Vacancy Act.

Shelton said that Wall Street already has too much power in Washington and shouldn’t be allowed to take over the only agency that has actually stood up to it.

“Consumers need an independent CFPB,” Shelton said. “Wall Street already has enough friends in Washington.”

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CWA to CEOs: If you get a tax cut, we want raises

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) told CEOs of corporations where its members work that if the Republican corporate tax cut bill passes, the union wants its members to get the big raises that President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan say will result from the cuts.

“In light of recent developments on the national level concerning taxes, wages, and jobs, I write to seek your agreement that our members in CWA-represented bargaining units will receive an additional $4000 each year if the statutory federal corporate tax rate is lowered to 20 percent,” wrote CWA President Chris Shelton in a letter to eight major corporations that have collective bargaining agreements with CWA.

President Trump and Speaker Ryan have been marketing their proposed Tax Cut and Jobs Act as a working class tax cut rather than a windfall to corporations and the wealthy.

To make this point, they rely on an analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) that asserts that the economic growth generated by the corporate tax cuts will result in higher wages of between $4000 a year and $9000 a year for workers.

Shelton as well as most professional economists are skeptical about the analysis, but should the tax bill become law, Shelton wants guarantees that workers will receive the promised raises.

And he wants the guarantee in writing.

The letter includes a memorandum of understanding that Shelton asked the CEOs to sign. It states that should the corporate tax be lowered to 20 percent, “each employee in the bargaining unit will receive an additional $4000 in each year of such rate.”

The memorandum would also guarantee that the pay raises won’t be offset by benefit cuts and commits the company to forego the offshoring of jobs.

The letter seeking the memorandum was sent to the CEOs of Verizon, AT&T, NBC Universal, Frontier, General Electric, ABC Entertainment, CenturyLink, and American Airlines.

The US House of Representatives passed its version of the new tax bill before the Thanksgiving Day holidays and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill after the holidays.

Shelton is not the only one skeptical about the Presidents claim that the economic growth generated by the tax cut will lead to big pay raises for workers.

“The Trump administration’s claims that large wage gains for workers will result from cutting corporations’ taxes is not supported by the professional research consensus on this issue, and have no serious backing in the data,” said Josh Bivens, director of the Economic Policy Institute.

These words were echoed in a New York Times editorial which calls the claims about economic growth generated by the corporate tax cuts, “the biggest whopper” of all the “lies Republican lawmakers and President Trump tell about their tax bills.”

According to the Times, “just one of 38 prominent economists surveyed by the University of Chicago agreed that the Republican tax cut would substantially lift the economy.”

Shelton sees the Republican tax bill as a corporate giveaway that does little if anything to help the working class.

In addition to reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, the Republican bill also lowers profits from overseas operations to 0 percent with some exceptions.

“Obviously, such a rate structure incentivizes companies to shift work overseas, killing US jobs,” writes Shelton in his letter to the CEOs.

There are other problems with the tax bill that will hurt workers.

Union workers with good paying jobs could see their taxes increase because the Republican bill eliminates the deduction for state and local taxes, and it includes new taxes on benefits that union workers have fought hard to win.

Cutting corporate taxes also will lead to increased deficits to the federal budget that will result in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

For these reasons, CWA has been urging its members to contact members of Congress to tell them to vote no on the tax bill.

CWA supports real tax reform that will reduce taxes on the working class, said Shelton in a union hall teleconference for members. But the Republican tax bill is nothing more than a giveaway to the 1 percent.

Union members bash tax cuts for the wealthy paid for with cuts to Medicaid and Medicare

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) criticized the budget resolution recently passed by the US Senate.

The budget resolution is a blueprint for federal spending and revenue collection for the next ten years and lays out the funding priorities of the Senate.

Its passage is also one of the preliminary steps that Republicans need to take in order to pass their new tax bill that reduces taxes by at least $1.5 trillion, the lion’s share of which will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Nearly all of these tax cuts for the wealthy will be paid for by cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

The senate budget resolutions cuts funding for Medicaid by $1 trillion over ten years and Medicare by $470 billion over the same period.

“The cuts make me angry and sad because they will hurt so many people, including my own family, all just to give tax breaks to the wealthiest one percent,” said Josh Kunkle, a Pittsburgh security officer and 32BJ SEIU member.

SEIU member Carlita Adamy of Syracuse, New York said that unions members will fight these proposed cuts every step of the way.

“We beat them back when they tried to cut health insurance from millions of people, and we won’t let it happen this time either, the health of our residents and our families is too important,” said Adamy, a nursing home worker and member of 1199 SEIU.

A report by Democratic staff members of the Senate Budget Committee says that “the Republican budget is a massive transfer of wealth from working families, the elderly, children, the sick, and the poor to the top 1 percent.”

According to the report, 80 percent of the benefits of the tax plan that Republicans hope to enact will go to the top 1 percent of income earners.

In addition to slashing nearly $1.5 trillion in Medicaid and Medicare funding, the Republican budget would raise taxes on 30 percent of Americans with annual incomes between $50,000 and 150,000 by an average of $1000 by the end of the decade.

The report also notes that these massive breaks for the rich come at time of extreme income inequality in the US.

“Today, the United States has more wealth and income inequality than at any time since the 1920s,” states the report. “The top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. . . Further, since the Wall Street crash, 52 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.”

In addition to slashing Medicare and Medicaid, the Senate budget resolution includes funding cuts for

  • housing assistance for one million families
  • heating assistance for seniors, disabled people, and families with children
  • nutrition assistance to families enrolled in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and
  • the head start program.

The Republican budget resolution also reduces transportation funding by $200 million.

The House of Representatives earlier in October passed its own budget resolution similar to the Senate’s.

There are some differences, however, and the house, which is also controlled by Republicans has a choice: accept the Senate budget resolution as is or request a conference committee with senators to resolve the differences.

Once an agreed upon budget resolution passes both houses then committees in both houses will begin to take steps to pass a new tax bill.

SEIU and at least one other union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA), are planning on mobilizing members to oppose the proposed cuts and the tax breaks for the wealthy that the cuts will fund.

In a message to CWA members, the union asked, “Should working people pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?”

CWA also invited members to participate in a town hall phone call on October 26 to hear how the Republican plan will affect working people.

“It’s really important that working people speak up and keep the pressure on Congress for real tax reform–not more breaks for the 1 percent,” said the CWA’s message to members.

StoryCorps workers vote to join CWA

Despite an anti-union campaign by their employer, workers at StoryCorps voted to join Communication Workers of America Local 1180 in New York, City.

Unless you listen to National Public Radio (NPR) stations, you may not have heard of StoryCorps.

It’s a non-profit that gathers and archives stories of ordinary people. It does so says the StoryCorps website “in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

NPR stations broadcast some of these stories once a week, and StoryCorps also produces podcasts for its website.

“We (gather these stories) to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters,” states the StoryCorps website.

Occasionally, these stories are about the work people do and the value of their work.

StoryCorps employs producers, production assistants, facilitators who conduct interviews, and others who help gather, archive, and present these stories.

StoryCorps workers have their own story. It’s about an employer that under values and under appreciates the work they do.

“We experienced sudden layoffs, worked for low wages, and weren’t able to negotiate over working conditions,” said Mia Warren, a StoryCorps production assistant and an activist in the union campaign.

Warren and other pro-union staff thought that the best way to address these problems was to have a union.

“My colleagues and I decided to come together and organize so we could have a seat at the table to discuss issues like health care benefits, severance packages, and greater transparency around pay,” continued Warren.

But StoryCorps management wasn’t interested in listening to its workers; instead, it hired an anti-union law firm, Holland & Knight to conduct a union avoidance campaign.

Workers began talking about forming a union in 2016, and contacted CWA to help them.

By June 2017, they had collected enough signatures on union authorization cards to present them to management and request that it voluntarily recognize the union.

StoryCorps said, “no” and hired Holland & Knight.

What followed was a classic anti-union campaign.

StoryCorps held captive audience meetings in which management presented an anti-union message to workers.

StoryCorps developed and distributed a Frequently Asked Questions memo about unions that repeated the same anti-union message that was presented in the captive audience meetings.

StoryCorps tried to postpone the union election by questioning the composition of the bargaining unit that would be represented by the union.

When the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the proposed bargaining unit was a valid one, StoryCorps continued to push its anti-union message.

Finally, the union representation election took place.

Workers in Brooklyn where the non-profit is headquartered had a chance to cast their vote on August 22.

Workers in other locations voted by mail.

After all the votes were cast, the NLRB counted them and on September 13 announced that 83 percent of StoryCorps union-eligible workers had voted for the union.

“Even when facing an anti-union campaign by management, my coworkers and I stayed strong for months, said Roselyn Almonte, a national facilitator at StoryCorps. “Now that we’ve made our voices heard, we can’t wait to get to the bargaining table.”

Prior to the election, StoryCorps said that if its workers voted in favor of a union, it will recognize the union and bargain in good faith.

Now the question is whether StoryCorps will keep its word or will it delay bargaining in an attempt to erode support for the union and win what it couldn’t through the ballot–a union-free StoryCorps.

We’ll see.

Santander employees take union campaign to Washington DC

Members of the Committee for Better Banks traveled to Washington DC to share with members of Congress a new report on the predatory lending practices by Santander Consumer USA, the largest subprime auto loan lender in the US.

Committee for Better Banks is an organization of bank workers and consumer advocates affiliated with the Communication Workers of America. Members of the committee are working to unionize the banking industry, like it is in Europe and South America, and to improve banking practices in the US.

One of the banks where employees are trying to organize a union is Santander and its consumer loan division Santander Consumer USA.

Life for bank workers like these can be precarious.

Their pay is low and much of it is based on commissions they receive from selling banking services and products that customers often don’t need and often can’t afford.

“We had to make a decision every day about meeting our need to have a job and an income or speaking  up about practices that Santander has in place that negatively impact our customers,” said former Santander employee Jerry Robinson on the committee’s Facebook page.

The new report that committee members shared with members of Congress such as senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown describes some of the practices referred to by Robinson.

According to the report, Santander’s pay and incentive system pressures its call center collection employees “to use aggressive collection tactics” taught them by Santander to convince customers to agree to changes to their loans without explaining the high cost of the changes.

Santander Consumer controls more than one-third of the subprime auto loans in the USA.

These are high interest loans made to auto customers with low credit ratings.

About 31 percent of all outstanding auto loans are subprime loans.

It’s not unusual for subprime customers to miss or fall behind on loan payments.

In 2015, 16.7 percent of Santander’s auto loans were delinquent.

When customers do fall behind, they call or are contacted by Santander collection employees working in call centers.

In some cases, customers falling behind on their loans are encouraged to refinance or extend their loans.

Doing so may reduce monthly payments but the fees and extra interest rates that result can substantially increase the cost of the loan.

Santander’s practices have recently drawn the interest of state attorneys general who are cracking down on predatory lending practices.

Santander in March paid $25.9 million to settle predatory lending suits filed by the attorneys general of Delaware and Massachusetts.

Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey told Bloomberg Markets that in one of the cases cited in her suit, a Massachusetts car buyer ended up owing $10,000 on a $750 vehicle loan.

When members of the Committee for Better Banks met with members of Congress, they told them that having a union at Santander would give the workers the collective power they need to oppose such predatory practices.

Having a union would also give them a chance to have a reliable and steady income.

Currently, if workers don’t meet their sales quotas, they could end up making the minimum wage or near it.

Most people think that working for a bank like Santander is a good middle class job, but many of these workers struggle to make ends meet.

According to a report by the Committee for Better Banks, “bank worker wages are so low that almost one-third of bank tellers receive some sort of public assistance nationwide.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In Spain where bank employees including those for Santander are union members, the average bank employee’s salary is $15,000 higher than the national average wage.

After meeting with members of the Committee for Better Banks, Sen. Brown issued a statement about the report presented to him by Santander workers.

“The behavior outlined in this report is troubling and, if true, shows that predatory practices boost profits for banks and their executives while hurting customers and workers,” said Sen. Brown, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s banking committee. “It’s critical (that) workers are empowered to speak out if their company is harming them or its customers, and I urge Santander to respect the rights of these workers to elect union representation that will give them those protections.”

AT&T workers on strike!

A strike by 40,000 Communication Workers of America (CWA) members closed AT&T stores across the US.

Union members went on a three-day strike that began on Friday, May 19 to protest AT&T’s lack of respect for its workers.

Despite reporting hefty profits of nearly a $1 billion a month, said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor, “AT&T continues to pinch its workers’ basic needs and stand in the way of high-quality service (that) its customers pay good money for.”

Trainor said that AT&T has been outsourcing what were once good-paying jobs to third party contractors who pay low wages and few benefits.

He also complained that AT&T wants to reduce worker health care benefits and is unwilling to give its union workers a pay raise that sufficiently rewards them for their contribution to the company’s success.

Striking workers belong to four different bargaining units that are negotiating four different contracts.

The AT&T Orange Mobility contract covers 21,000 call center and retail workers in 36 states; the AT&T West contract covers 15,000 workers in California and Nevada, the AT&T East contract covers 2000 workers in Connecticut, and the DirecTV contract covers 2000 workers in California and Nevada.

The AT&T West contract expired more than a year ago, and the AT&T Orange Mobility contract expired in February.

DirecTV workers, are negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015.

One of the workers’ main concerns is that their new contracts protect their jobs against outsourcing.

AT&T has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs, or 30 percent of its call center workforce, in the US and shipped those jobs abroad to a network of 38 call centers in eight foreign countries.

According to a recent report by the CWA, contractors operating these call centers pay their workers “pennies on the dollar compared to US wages.”

AT&T is also outsourcing retail store jobs to third party contractors.

“AT&T has moved more than 60 percent of its wireless retail jobs to third-party dealers that create profit for the company but cause major headaches for workers and customers alike,” writes  Carissa Moore, a CWA member in the state of Washington, who audits customer accounts for AT&T.

Workers are losing good paying jobs and customers are getting poor service, continues Moore.

“AT&T’s third-party dealers are misleading and misinforming people of all ages and backgrounds in Seattle and across the country,” writes Moore. “I’ve seen customers get pushed to add products and services they don’t need, under the guise of being free, and receive unexpected charges and activation fees that weren’t disclosed that increase their monthly bills.”

The striking workers say that while the strike may inconvenience some customers in the short run, in the long run customers will benefit if more of the work is brought back in house and done by workers directly accountable to AT&T and their customers.

James Stiffey, an AT&T retail worker in Pittsburg, said that he was on strike because AT&T is disrespecting both its workers and its customers.

“Our strike is about demanding conditions that allow us to provide better service for customers too,” said Stiffey. “We are standing together to win a fair contract that protects customers, families and entire communities—and we’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”

CWA members spent much of the three-day strike picketing AT&T retail stores. Fortune reports that the strike closed AT&T retail stores from Montana, to Chicago, to Bangor, Maine.

“As a father, striking is not an easy decision for me,” said Mark Bautista, an AT&T wireline worker in California. “But to make sure I can give my kids the future they deserve, we must take a stand against any and all attempts to skimp on good jobs and financial security. And our fight for a fair contract is about more than just my co-workers and me—it’s about fighting a system that’s been rigged against us and way too many others for far too long. On the picket lines today, I’ll be chanting ‘No Contract, No Peace,’ until I lose my voice.”

Although the strike ended at 12:01 A.M. Monday morning, Bautista and other CWA members said that if AT&T doesn’t listen to its workers, they’re willing to strike again, and next time, it could be for more than just three days.

Grievance strike hits AT&T West; workers demand a fair contract

Seventeen thousand AT&T West technicians and call center workers returned to work on March 23 after participating in a grievance strike that affected AT&T’s communication services in California and Nevada.

The grievance strike was called by Communication Workers of America (CWA) District 9 to protest the company’s efforts to expand the duties of premise technicians.

Premise technicians install and maintain AT&T’s U-Verse television and internet service, but last July, the company issued a document requiring them to perform work done by higher paid service technicians who maintain and repair telephone and cable lines.

“We went on strike to demonstrate to the country that we will not do more work for less pay, especially when it puts us in a position not to deliver the best possible service,” said Robert Longer, a member of CWA Local 9421 in Sacramento, California.

The strike lasted one day and ended after the company agreed to rescind the document requiring premise technicians to perform expanded job duties.

“Our grievance strike was a success,” read a statement issued by CWA District 9. “Our premise technicians will no longer be required to work outside of the scope of the their duties.”

The scope of premise technicians’ duties has been one of the sticking points keeping AT&T and the union from reach a fair agreement on a new contract.

The union and AT&T West have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for more than a year.

The current agreement expired in April 2016, but the two sides have continued to negotiate.

When the company in July attempted to circumvent the bargaining process and unilaterally expanded the scope of premise technician duties, union members filed a number of grievances to prevent the expansion.

The union was negotiating with the company to resolve the grievance, but the negotiations broke down.

In a statement explaining the reason for the strike, the union said that AT&T disrespected the bargaining process and “reneged on an agreement to resolve the (premise technician) dispute without any explanation.”

“We are on strike today because AT&T is hurting us all by violating their bargaining obligations with the union,” said Robinson Paiz, a maintenance splicer from Los Angeles.  “We don’t want to let our customers down, but AT&T left us with no other choice. AT&T needs to get serious and honor its contract with us so we can keep servicing our customers.”

The union and its members are hoping that the grievance strike will make it clear to AT&T that they are serious about negotiating a fair new collective bargaining agreement.

There are other contract issues that have yet to be resolved.

Union members want to keep their health care benefits intact without the cuts proposed by the company; they want the company to hire more workers to deal with the chronic under  staffing; and they want to protect their jobs against offshoring.

AT&T has outsourced thousands of call center jobs abroad to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines.

AT&T recently closed its largest call center in Oakland, leaving those who remain on the job nervous about their futures.

“The fact that AT&T has moved a lot of jobs (abroad) has hurt a lot of us here in the United States,” said one California call center worker. “I talk to my children a lot about Mommy not being employed anymore.”

“When they get rid of the jobs in our communities it affects a lot of other businesses in the communities,” said another California call center worker.

Union members also want the company to hire more workers. “We’re short staffed,” said another AT&T worker.

Short staffing is causing workers to work a lot of forced overtime.

“Forced overtime can happen anytime, and any day,” said another AT&T worker. “You can’t make plans in the evening because you don’t know what time you’re going to get off.”

Forced overtime is also interfering with family life. Workers miss special events like birthday parties for family members and everyday events like spending time with their children.

Short staffing, forced overtime, health care cuts, outsourcing, and the expansion of the scope of premise technicians’ work are all the results of AT&T attempts to cut labor costs.

These cuts aren’t coming at a time when ATT&T is struggling.

In fact, AT&T makes a billion a month in profits and its CEO Randall Stephenson received $28.4 million in compensation for 2016, a 13 percent increase over the previous year.

But the company is getting pressure from its Wall Street investors to reduce labor costs so more of the wealth created by the company’s workers can go to investors.

“While AT&T is extremely profitable, the company has become disconnected from the day to day issues facing workers and customers,” said a statement issued by CWA. “Despite the financial success, the company is asking its workers to do more for less — keeping them from their families with unpredictable overtime, undercutting pay and advancement, offshoring good jobs, and pushing more health care costs onto employees. At the same time, customers are paying increasingly higher bills to AT&T for essential services.”