Wells Fargo shareholders voted against the creation of a policy that would have formally outlined framework supportive of worker unionization last week.
The measure, which garnered 36% shareholder support, was deemed “unnecessary and not in the best interests of our employees or shareholders” ahead of the bank’s April 25 annual meeting, according to a proxy statement.
“We respect employees’ rights under applicable local laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Our policies do not prohibit employees from forming or joining labor organizations or collectively bargaining, nor do they prohibit employees from discussing wages, benefits, and terms of employment,” shareholders wrote, detailing ways for employees to share concerns directly with the company.
The measure’s failure, however, doesn’t call off unionization efforts.
“Being able to put forth a proposal was a huge first step to being able to show that we actually exist and that we want to form a union and be recognized,” Wells Fargo Workers United member Trevor Brown told Banking Dive. “For us get the results of over a third is pretty solid and pretty good considering the opposition we have, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Brown, a nearly-10-year Wells Fargo employee based in Arizona, said he joined WFWU last September after years of looking for ways to voice concerns.
“[Voiced complaints and concerns] are often met with disdain or you being cast as a troublemaker, or just being told that they'll work on it next year. Meanwhile, customers are left in the wind, and employees are left in the wind,” Brown said.
Brown called “laughable” the notion that Wells Fargo respects workers’ rights to collective bargaining, adding that such comments were included in shareholders’ rejection of Proposal 11.
“I think that maybe that’s the image they have of themselves. They like to think that they're socially progressive and that they are willing to be open and welcoming, which on a lot of levels could be true. But the moment you bring up anything like competitive pay or some term of employment, that inclusiveness is not there anymore,” Brown said.
“The reality is, once you actually begin those conversations, there's a lot of vitriol – from people taking flyers, tearing them in half, and throwing them in the garbage, to people saying you're not allowed to talk about anything union related in a workplace setting. There's a lot of push back to that,” he said.
Brown said that he’s seen flyers torn in half and thrown away five minutes after they were put up in common areas, such as the cafeteria.
A Wells Fargo spokesperson said via email that the bank respects feedback from its shareholders and will “carefully consider their recommendations regarding their proposal.”
The spokesperson added that the bank “believes our employees are best served by working directly with the company and its leadership — not a third-party group like a union — to address matters of concern,” and Wells Fargo respects workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act. A bank spokesperson replied with the same statement last month in response to an earlier inquiry on the topic.
As far as next steps go, Brown said the proposal put WFWU “on the map” and that it was “a flashpoint.”
“I think the future holds an expansion of employee awareness [of WFWU]. It's impossible to stop at this point,” he said. “Being able to have employees in locations bargain collectively … is better for those customers that are waiting in lines all day, and it’s better for employees busting their butts all day, and it's better for those dudes on top because the shareholders make more money when their customers are happy.”
Wells Fargo workers’ collective bargaining proposal wasn’t the only one that struggled to get support at last week’s big-bank shareholder meetings.
Climate change proposals received less support than they did last year at Bank of America and Citi, where less than 10% at each bank voted in support of timelining the phase-out of lending for fossil fuel development and exploration, American Banker reported.
Wells Fargo shareholders voted the same proposal down, writing that restricting oil and gas financing wasn’t “reasonable given the significant adverse impact that curtailing financing to this sector would have on the U.S. and world economies.”
“Also, this approach is counterproductive at a time when many of these companies are investing in their own climate transitions, pursuing emissions reductions in their operations, and developing new clean energy solutions,” Wells Fargo shareholders said in their proxy statement.
Wells Fargo, BofA and Citi have each made public commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. They also have interim goals for 2030.