Though the recent wave of unionization has spurred investors to call on Starbucks and Amazon to respect workers’ rights, these attitudes have not always been popular. Amalgamated Bank, however, is one institution that has been supporting the idea of fair labor practices as a sign of economic health for over a century.

Amalgamated, which was founded by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1923 to provide banking services to Manhattan garment workers, is the largest union-owned bank in the U.S. and one the only banks whose staff themselves are unionized.

Workers United, the descendant of the clothing workers union, remains the bank’s majority owner, and its president Lynne Fox serves as the chair of the Amalgamated Bank’s board. Its connections to organized labor remain deep. Its clients include the 1199 SEIU’s fund, DC 37 The Teamsters, MLBPA and labor affiliates like the NYC Central Labor Council.

Because of its close-knit affiliation with labor, the bank’s staff are specialized and trained in the needs of unions. The bank offers unions as well as small businesses and individual banking services and institutional investing services.

“It’s really important to be able to have that personal experience and understand the importance and impact that unions have on working families lives,” said Valarie Johnson Brown, first vice president of the Union Sector.

One unique service for unions is the way that it approaches strike funds. Not only does the bank provide to unions a special account for strike funds, it has provided unions with a line of credit in the case that they exceed their reserves. But beyond merely providing products and services to unions, the bank uses the union assets it manages as a way to bolster labor rights at the companies that they are invested in.

“We’re really looking to use our seat at the table and use our power to help advance things like employee neutrality so that workers can freely and fairly decide whether they want a union on the job,” said Maura Keaney, the bank’s director of client engagement.

Amalgamated is one of the leading providers of investment and trust services to Taft–Hartley pension plans in the U.S., overseeing around $60 billion in investment services. As a result, the bank manages money that’s invested in publicly traded companies across America, and uses its union-helmed board to find strategic areas to apply this leverage.

A perfect example happened last year when the bank partnered with the Association of Flight Attendants to introduce a resolution that aimed to stop Delta from fighting organizing efforts among its staff. Flight attendants and machinists had been seeking to organize with the Teamsters for years there but the company had fought back.

“We feel as a shareholder that labor peace is an important part of being a successful company, financially successful, right? We introduced a resolution that encouraged Delta to look for labor peace, because as a shareholder, we feel like that’s gonna help the company perform better,” Keaney said.

In 2023, the shareholders participated in 15 different campaigns like this on five different topics. The bank has drafted shareholder resolutions around child labor, particularly in companies that contract their labor force overseas with less regulation. It also defended the right to unionize at electric automaker Rivian and Chipotle and workplace equity at Victoria’s Secret, Electronic Arts and Estee Lauder, to name a few.

In so doing, the bank has opened up a new front of labor power from the shareholder side. Unions need a bank in order to do basic functions like getting checks out and managing pensions, so why not join with one that views and bolsters unions as a positive force in the economy.

“With Amalgamated, they can have one that shares their values, that makes sure their funds are sitting at a place that supports the work they’re doing, that doesn’t undermine it,” Keaney said.


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