Unions in Credit Unions

Labor unions have traditionally been seen as part of America’s older manufacturing  plants or where there are high concentrations of workers.  Autos, heavy equipment, steel, telecommunications, and transportation are industries where unions have been an key aspect of the workforce since WW II.

Gradually union efforts expanded to teachers, fire and police, and at the local state and national levels for public employees.   NCUA staff was unionized in  2013 under Chairman Matz.

Organizing has extended to NFL, baseball and virtually all player’s associations in professional sports. Graduate student staff at California’s state university system went on strike last fall.

The last two years have seen increasing efforts by employees to from unions, especially in the retail sectors.  The warehouse organizing at Amazon and Starbuck store-by-store votes, have been regular business news in 2022.

Hybrid work options and prospects of increased layoffs have led to organizing efforts in the heretofore non-unionized tech industry, including a small part of Microsoft’s empire.

Local circumstances as well as macro-economic factors have driven this effort.  Inflation has caused employees to be more aggressive in seeking higher wages.

There are more job openings than people job hunting. Yesterday’s monthly JOLT (job openings and labor turnover report)  showed 10.5 million openings, a level that has remained steady for more than a year.

Unions and Retail Services

One author has suggested that Starbuck’s unionization has been motivated by employee response to the firm’s modified corporate strategy.

This corporate transformation was necessitated by Covid driven changes in consumer commuting patterns and work place locations. Starbucks had positioned itself as the “third place” between home and office for people to gather.

Today the business model relies on transaction volume driven partly by a mobile app and instant pickup with fewer employees to keep costs down.

He describes the impact of this strategy shift in The Future of Retail is Happening at Starbucks Right Now. 

“The number of store employees has dropped dramatically.  Starbucks had 349,000 employees in 2020, which includes the period pre-pandemic, and 138,000 in 2021, but coffee is still flowing.

“Like any retailer, Starbucks needs people to do some work. Perhaps there are steps of the customer experience that could be replaced with software, but not all of it. If Starbucks is going to be successful with a reduced staff, it needs employees who know the stores, their customers, and operations.

“This is why many stores are fighting to unionize. Employees are demanding livable wages, dependable hours, and benefits. And it’s not like Starbucks is hurting. Store count and profits are up, while the company-wide payroll has fewer people. Yet the employees who still show up are struggling to get hours and benefits.”

A Top Ten Item

A Credit Union Times article by Henry Meier former General Counsel of the New York Credit Union Association, listed union organizing as one of the top ten trends to watch in 2023:

From Amazon to Starbucks, last year marked a movement toward unionization: Why would credit unions be exempt from this trend? This means that someone in your credit union should be familiar with the steps you can and should take in the event that your senior management receives notice of intent to form a union. This is an area of the law where a single misguided statement can result in loads of trouble.

This law firm’s new advertorial cited two cases of union organizing in a bank and coop in 2021: Big Labor Targets Banks and Credit Unions.

They point out these successes were in “union friendly” states at a time when there is more active NLRB support for organizing,

Credit Unions and Unions

A number of credit unions have had employee labor unions, some their entire existence.  717 Credit Union in Ohio was formed by a GM labor union.  Teachers,  police and fire credit unions in several states were formed by their professional associations.

Once in a while employees have ended their union affiliation. When a new relationship focused CEO came to State Employees in Michigan,  the employees disaffiliated some 15 years ago.

Both external economic conditions  and institutional strategy change–major mergers and bank purchases–are causing credit union employees to consider how to negotiate their future work opportunities in significantly altered environments.

In October employees at a Broadview FCU branch in Albany, NY announced their intent to form a union.  This occurred just months after the former State Employees FCU and Cap Comm CU had merged.

In the Times Union article,  the employees invoked both credit union design as well as traditional work concerns in these excerpts:

Credit unions are a form of economic democracy where every member has equal ownership and one vote. We have concluded that a labor union is necessary in order to provide Broadview members — our financial institution’s owners — with high quality banking services,” reads the letter. “We are organizing due to inadequate pay and benefits, constantly changing schedules, understaffing which overwhelms us, and a lack of equality and a voice in our workplace.”

The article continues:

“The union letter was from member service associates and relationship bankers at SEFCU’s Park South branch on New Scotland Avenue in Albany. It wasn’t clear if the organizers, calling themselves, the Broadview Labor Organizing Committee, were affiliated with or had reached out to other regional or national unions.

Credit Unions, Culture and Employee Unions

Many credit unions compete through superior personal service.  Employees are front and center of this effort.  Management constantly  nurtures this advantage through training and transparency.

If changes are undertaken and employees learn about their  new  priorities only as senior management announces them, a loss of agency can occur.   Why weren’t we asked?  How will this bank purchase affect our staffing?  What will happen to all the co-employee positions in a combinaton of sound, previously independent credit unions?

Unions and credit unions may increasingly go together.  After all, aren’t coops basically a member-organized union?

The best way to follow what  credit union employees are thinking is fully and regularly sharing  what management is thinking.





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