- I'm a frontline bank worker who was fired for standing up for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
- The US banking industry has the lowest level of union membership, resulting in discrimination, low-wages, extreme sales goals, and few protections on the job.
- The PRO Act would protect bank workers' ability to stand up for ourselves and our customers, and ensure the banking industry remains accountable to the people it employs and serves.
- Jasmine Snyder is a member of Committee for Better Banks and former Collateral and Insurance Administrator at Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Just weeks before COVID-19 reached my city of Eugene, Oregon, I was fired from my job without any prior disciplinary record or even a warning from my manager.
Back then, we didn't know as much as we do now about the pandemic, but I had read and seen enough to know that we needed to be prepared. So I put up a flyer in the break room to see if my coworkers at Pentagon Federal Credit Union would be interested in organizing for better healthcare. At the time, for a healthcare plan with a reasonable deductible, PenFed employees could expect to pay a premium over $400 a month to cover their family. This led many to opt for the high deductible plan, a risky gamble even without a pandemic.
PenFed's reaction to my organizing is all too common. Employers often use firings or unfair discipline as a tactic to show their workforce that they will target anyone who speaks up for better conditions. It is an attempt by an employer to make an example of a few employees and send a message to their colleagues: speak up, and you'll lose your livelihood, too.
For around two years, my colleagues and I had been advocating together for better benefits - like healthcare and childcare - and reasonable sales goals. We weren't asking for the moon, we were asking for basic respect and fair treatment as we supported the military members and veterans who bank with PenFed. We felt that unless we did this organizing, there would be no reason for PenFed CEO James Schenck to improve working conditions and make real changes to how he ran his business.
The past year has shown the essential role of frontline workers. But honoring these workers goes beyond just acknowledging them as heroes. It means supporting our basic right to have a voice on the job and being protected against retaliation from bosses like PenFed's CEO.
If there's one thing the pandemic has shown us, it's that no matter what industry you work in - whether it's banking or fast food or healthcare - workers have very few ways to improve their economic security. Part of why we remain stuck is because we are stopped at every turn from having a voice on the job. It's also why we've been hammered with job losses and preventable cases of COVID-19.
That's why I support the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a crucial bill that would overhaul labor law to strengthen workers' rights on the job, and make it easier for workers to join unions and collectively bargain with their employers. It would ban coercive activities that companies use to deter workers from joining unions, and companies who retaliate against their employees would face financial penalties for their actions.
When I was fired, I filed an Unfair Labor Practice, or ULP, against PenFed. An employer commits a ULP for violating the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which guarantees the right of employees to organize unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action. Just as this landmark piece of legislation was passed in a time of crisis in this country, the PRO Act would today provide us bold labor protections against employers that continue to strong arm us. Unfortunately, corporate special interests have spent decades gutting and weakening the NLRA.
With the PRO Act, instead of losing my job and income when I was fired, I would have been able to continue to work and be paid throughout the entire ULP process. PenFed wouldn't have been incentivized to drag out the proceedings, which ultimately forced me to accept a financial settlement rather than getting my job back, which was my intention.
I'm fighting for my rights and advocating for the PRO Act not only for my own economic security and my colleagues' economic security, but also for my credit union members. Helping military members and veterans was an honor, and I always wanted to do right by them. Performance metrics that focused on maximizing sales and keeping call times short didn't often result in "best in class member service," nor did the decision to outsource a large part of the mortgage and equity teams in 2019.
But the US financial industry as a whole is plagued by discrimination, low-wages, and extreme sales goals. We have the lowest level of union representation out of any industry in the US, making it that much harder for workers to stand up for themselves and their customers who rely on them for financial stability.
Workers have an important role to play in the financial industry: it was, after all, workers who blew the whistle on Wells Fargo's fraudulent accounts scandal that impacted millions of customers.
That's why I joined the Committee for Better Banks, a coalition of frontline bank workers fighting to improve working conditions at the nation's largest financial institutions with help from the Communications Workers of America. I wanted to be part of critical efforts to increase worker voice in the industry and hold it accountable to us and to its customers.
I'm proud to continue my work with CBB to ensure that workers have a voice in the financial industry. One way to ensure real progress - for workers and our customers - is by passing the PRO Act.
Jasmine Snyder is a member of the Committee for Better Banks and former Member Service Representative at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union.