The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said it has formally protested NationsBank Corp.'s two planned acquisitions in Florida, citing the Community Reinvestment Act.
The union has complained to federal regulators, citing "evidence of persistent racial discrimination in NationsBank's home lending in a number of cities."
Most CRA-related complaints are filed by civil rights groups or community activists. NationsBank had never before been the target of a reinvestment-act complaint from a labor union.
Teamsters spokesman Greg LeRoy said the union was acting on behalf of minority members who live in Florida. But recently it has also been battling NationsBank over another issue - the North Carolina bank's use of the Pony Express courier service in a number of cities.
The union represents about 2,000 workers at Pony Express, which is owned by Borg-Warner Security Corp. Since a failed strike against Pony Express last summer, the union has been putting public pressure on companies that work with Pony Express or Borg-Warner.
Merrill Lynch & Co., which owns 13% of Borg-Warner, has been the target of a nationwide teamsters lobbying campaign revolving around allegedly improper bond underwriting practices. Last year the union protested in front of NationsBank's Charlotte headquarters. Last month a dozen teamster activists picketed the NationsBank tower in downtown Atlanta. NationsBank uses Pony Express in a number of cities to deliver canceled checks to the Federal Reserve.
Catherine Bessant, NationsBank's director of community investment, suggested that the union's reinvestment-act complaints stem directly from the Pony Express controversy. "I think it would be hard not to view it in that overall context," she said. If the union hopes to use the act as a club against NationsBank, she said, "it's not the right club to choose - we have a very strong record here."
Mr. LeRoy said only that the Pony Express dispute was "a matter of public record."
NationsBank spokeswoman Jan Boylston said NationsBank has no plans to drop Pony Express from its list of vendors. "As long as they're providing quality service to us and the work's getting done, that's the main criterion we use for any of our vendors.
"It's not our issue," she added. "The issue is between the union and Borg-Warner. We don't feel we have a position to take."
Within the past month, NationsBank has signed definitive agreements to acquire Intercontinental Bank, Miami, and CSF Holdings Inc., a Miami-based thrift. But Ms. Bessant noted that NationsBank has not even filed applications with federal regulators yet to buy the two companies.
"Normally, the regulators take comments during a 30-day public comment period. That's when we receive these kinds of challenges. We're not even in a public comment period," Ms. Bessant said.
The teamsters' union based most of its redlining allegations on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, which show disparities in loans made to white and black customers. Like most banks, NationsBank has improved its HMDA performance over the years.
"We maintain a very strong program, both in terms of community reinvestment and fair-lending," Ms. Bessant said. "We're quite confident our record will continue to stand up to scrutiny."