A union-led campaign for higher pay and better working conditions at bank branches is getting a boost from Wells Fargo's recent enforcement action.
The Committee for Better Banks, a coalition formed in 2013, is the foremost critic of the U.S. banking sector's treatment of its frontline workers. The group has been organizing disgruntled bank employees, while calling on the industry to end sales quotas and pay higher wages.
The coalition has claimed a few victories over the past few years – most notably, JPMorgan Chase recently announced plans to raise its minimum wage to between $12 and $16.50 per hour over the next three years.
But the campaign is getting new life from the revelation that Wells Fargo fired 5,300 employees over a five-year period, in connection with the creation of more than 2 million phony customer accounts.
Wells Fargo has laid blame at the feet of the fired workers, but the Committee for Better Banks is portraying those former employees as the victims of greedy executives.
On Monday, the coalition organized a conference call with reporters during which two former Wells Fargo employees talked about the pressure they faced to meet sales targets.
"Corporate executives designed the sales quota systems and created the culture of harassment and fear when we didn't meet our goals," said Julie Miller, a former Wells Fargo branch manager in Allentown, Pa.
"If employees working under me didn't meet their goals, I was told to write them up or get rid of them," Miller said.
Miller said that she did fire one employee, a well-liked customer service representative who was not meeting her sales goals, and then felt guilty about her action.
"I knew it wasn't right to push products on customers that they neither wanted nor needed. So I stopped pressuring my employees to do so. Wells Fargo came down on me very hard for not making my employees sell enough," Miller said.
"They fired me for performance, and my name was mud," Miller said. "I could not get another job in banking."
A Wells Fargo spokesman declined to comment.
The Committee for Better Banks argued Monday that high-pressure sales tactics are a problem at other banks too.
"It's not just contained to Wells Fargo. This is an industrywide problem," said Shane Larson, legislative director for the Communication Workers of America, one of the coalition's members.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has fined certain other banks for pushing unwanted products on consumers. For example, Santander Bank agreed to pay a $10 million fine in July for allegedly charging illegal overdraft fees and signing up consumers for overdraft services without their consent.
That enforcement action and others like it have generally been understood as efforts to protect U.S. consumers, rather than bank employees.
But the facts of the Wells Fargo case are somewhat different, since so many workers were fired, and because some of those former employees have started complaining publicly about working conditions at the San Francisco-based bank.
The Committee for Better Banks argues that the interests of bank employees are aligned with the interests of consumers. The group pointed reporters Monday to a June 2016 report by the union-funded National Employment Law Project, which argues that aggressive sales metrics in the banking industry are harming both consumers and workers.
One implication of the report is that unionization in the banking sector would be good for both employees and the public at large.
"Finance workers who have a voice on the job and whose fundamental rights are protected through collective agreements can be instrumental in mitigating abusive labor practices that can lead to consumer harm," the report argues.
A former Wells Fargo employee said during Monday's conference call that during his time at the bank he never heard of Wells firing an employee for overzealous sales tactics.
"If workers were indeed fired, it was because they couldn't meet the excessive sales targets," said Khalid Taha, a former Wells Fargo personal banker in San Diego.