November 22. 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Chanting “People Not Pixels,” about 25 people demonstrated in front of the Bank of America branch at 95 Wall Street Nov. 21. The branch is the first one in the city to have teleconferencing ATMs, which Bank of America plans to use to replace human tellers.
“It’s about domestic outsourcing,” said teller Alex Shalom, a 20-year-old Hunter College student. “They pay the people less than they pay us.” Bank of America has installed the machines, which it calls “Teller Assist,” at 34 locations in five states, and the videoconferencing tellers work out of call centers in Delaware and Florida.
Shalom makes $13.50 an hour. That’s the top end of the scale for entry-level tellers in New York City, with outer-borough tellers paid as little as $10.50, said Bridget Flaherty, organizing director for ALIGN, which facilitated the protest along with Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, and Communications Workers of America District 1. The videoconferencing tellers get $11 or less, she said.
Teller jobs, once a lower-middle-class occupation, are now increasingly part-time and low-paid, Flaherty added.
“It’s also bad for the customers,” said Shalom. “You really do develop relationships with people you see every day for five minutes.” People who don’t speak English well, people trying to send money abroad, and older people not good with technology are the ones who need face-to-face interaction the most, he added.
Shalom said he’s gotten more than 1,000 signatures on a petition urging the bank not to replace its human tellers. He tried to enter the bank to fax a letter to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, but the branch manager blocked the door, saying he couldn’t use the machine because he wasn’t on the job.
Ironically, noted Flaherty, Bank of America has received city tax breaks and subsidies in exchange for the promise it would create more jobs. It got $42 million in 2004, but it and Merrill Lynch “owe New Yorkers an estimated 7,000 jobs,” the City Council Progressive Caucus said last year.
Another protest is planned for Dec. 4 at the bank’s Bryant Park offices.