Wells Fargo workers form first union at a US megabank

(NEW YORK) — Workers at a Wells Fargo branch in New Mexico voted to form a union late Wednesday, becoming the first employees at a U.S. megabank to unionize.

Employees at an Albuquerque location favored unionization by a margin of 5-3, establishing a small outpost for organized labor at a company that operates more than 4,000 branches and employs over 225,000 workers in the U.S.

The union breakthrough arrives as Wells Fargo faces a wider labor campaign. Two branches, one in Daytona Beach, Florida, and another in Atwater, California, have filed petitions for union representation that could trigger balloting, according to information from the National Labor Relations Board shared with ABC News.

In response to ABC News’ request for comment, a Wells Fargo spokesperson said the company opposes unionization but acknowledged that the decision lies with employees.

“We respect our employees’ rights to vote for union representation,” the spokesperson said. “At the same time, we continue to believe our employees are best served by working directly with the company and its leadership.”

The spokesperson pointed to a five-employee branch in Bethel, Alaska, which withdrew a petition for unionization ahead of a vote scheduled for Thursday.

“We are pleased with this development and look forward to continuing to directly engage with our employees,” the spokesperson said.

The Communication Workers of America, the union that’s organizing Wells Fargo employees, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Seven worker complaints over alleged illegal anti-union activity carried out by Wells Fargo remain under review at the NLRB, the government agency said in a statement to ABC News.

The charges cover a range of claims alleging illegal retaliation, discipline and alteration of the terms of employment, the NLRB said. The complaints span five Wells Fargo facilities in Texas, Iowa, Arizona and California.

At a store in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wells Fargo settled over a union-related worker complaint, agreeing to not engage in coercive statements, surveillance or interrogation, the NLRB said.

In a statement last month about two of the worker complaints, the Communication Workers of America criticized Wells Fargo for the alleged conduct.

“We are organizing a union to build a better Wells Fargo for workers and customers, yet the bank continues to try to resist change,” the CWA said.

“Rather than join us in our efforts to address the toxic culture that has led to scandal after scandal and cost the bank billions of dollars in fines, Wells Fargo has chosen to break the law by attempting to silence us,” the union added.

When asked about worker complaints of illegal anti-union conduct during a Senate hearing earlier this month, Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf reaffirmed the company’s opposition to unionization and defended its freedom to discuss the subject with workers.

“We believe it’s best that we have a direct relationship with those employees, and we do intend to exercise our right to speak with them to make sure they make an informed decision,” Scharf said.

The union drive at Wells Fargo comes amid an uptick in labor campaigns this year, including efforts involving employees at some of the nation’s largest companies, such as Starbucks and Amazon.

Workers filed nearly 2,600 petitions for union representation in 2023, marking an increase of 3% from the previous fiscal year, the NLRB said in October.

Charges filed by workers over illegal anti-union activity rose 10% in 2023 compared to the same period last year, the NLRB added.

The nascent unionization at Wells Fargo aligns with a surge in organizing across the labor movement, Harry Katz, a professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University, told ABC News.

“It’s further evidence of the growing interest in unionization, even among workers that haven’t traditionally been organized in the U.S.,” Katz said.

Katz cautioned, however, that the workers could face difficulty reaching an agreement with Wells Fargo on new terms for the workplace. All of the thousands of Starbucks workers across more than 300 unionized stores, for instance, remain without a single union contract.

“Even if you unionize, it doesn’t mean you have bargaining power,” Katz said. “But this is still noteworthy.”

 

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