New York, NY – Frontline bank workers with multinational financial services giant Wells Fargo are speaking out this week about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] and other workplace protections ahead of a pivotal shareholders meeting.
Three Wells Fargo employees, on Monday, discussed the dangers in their respective worksites during a press call with reporters. They also noted the steps Wells Fargo should be taking to ensure that more frontline bank employees can work remotely to ensure their safety.
U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), sponsor of the Greater Supervision in Banking Act, also joined workers in a bid to hold Wells Fargo and the rest of the big multinational banks accountable during the coronavirus crisis.
Pressley’s legislation aims to strengthen congressional oversight of the eight U.S.-based G-SIBS — Globally Systemically Important Banks — which includes JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon.
“I’ve always maintained that the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power,” Congresswoman Pressley said.
Last month during a riveting meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, Pressley asked Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf whether he would commit to allowing all employees, not just top employees, work remotely.
Scharf answered yes, but when Pressley followed up to ask if the company would commit to providing sick days and paid leave to custodial staff, call center workers and third-party contractors — he balked.
“When I asked Mr. Scharf at that committee hearing about the bank’s policies around teleworking, sick days and paid leave…I can be diplomatic and say that he didn’t provide a straightforward answer — but we don’t have time for niceties,” the Massachusetts representative said.”He did more than mislead — he just lied outright.”
Alex Ross works in the auto-finance division of Wells Fargo. He said he understands the need for some employees to be in the office, but that the company should be doing everything it can to accommodate telework for employees, given the realities of acquiring proper PPE.
“It’s crucial that the bank supply adequate masks for everyone…they didn’t start supplying masks until a week-and-a-half-ago — and the supply ran out pretty quick,” Ross said.
Ross also noted that co-workers who must work out of an office are actually sharing the same telephone — a potentially deadly situation given a reportedly short supply of hand sanitizer, wipes and sprays.
Meanwhile, a Wells Fargo employee in California, who wished to remain anonymous, is fortunate to be able to work from home because he’s a loan officer. Nonetheless, there’s some tasks that can’t be done from home.
“When it comes to funding a loan, we actually have to sign off on the loan package for the customer to sign, and in order to do that, we have to go into the office and print the document because we are not allowed to print them from home,” the California loan officer said.
The same loan officer works in a typical Wells Fargo high-rise building where he is forced to take two sets of elevators just to get to his desk — one from the parking lot that leads to the lobby elevator and then the lobby elevator to his floor.
“So, even though the majority of us in the office are working from home, I have to share elevators with folks who aren’t wearing masks, other tenants that are not wearing masks,” he said. “We’re asking the property management company to enforce the wearing of masks by tenants, including security guards. Wells Fargo needs to step up and take the lead on that.”
The Wells Bank employees are members of the Committee for Better Banks, which is backed by the Communications Workers of America [CWA] and consumer advocacy groups.
The group sent a letter to the CEOs of the G-SIBS, calling on them to establish a “USA Banking Crisis Committee” in order to improve workplace safety during the current pandemic.
According to the group, similar committees exist among the G-SIBS’ foreign peers and international divisions where frontline bank workers are members of independent trade unions and benefit from collective and sectoral bargaining rights.
During the question and answer portion of the call, LaborPress asked workers if they had received an answer to their letter to the CEOs. Ross said they have not heard back.
“In addition to the letter, a small group of my co-workers and I did email the head of the auto-finance unit to press the issue of employees who have been here for less than six months working from home — and we got a response that basically the policy wasn’t going to be changing,” he said.