Preparing for the Labor Union Challenge

By McFall, John E. | American Banker, August 21, 1984 | Go to article overview

Preparing for the Labor Union Challenge


McFall, John E., American Banker


Managers at thrift and banking associations may soon face a challenge equal to any imposed by deregulation: an encounter with a union organizer. Many of today's labor unions are staking their hopes for survival on successful recruitment of the growing clerical and white-collar work force, largely female.

The traditional stronghold of organized labor, the male-dominated blue-collar work face, has decreased by 5% since 1970, while white-collar employment has grown 5% in the same time period. Labor experts predict that the largest increases in new white-collar openings will occur in a relatively small number of occupations. According to these predictions, 30% more bank tellers and general office clerks will be employed in 1995 than were in 1982, making the banks and thrifts which will employ these tellers and clerks inevitable targets for union organizers.

The present nonunion status of the vast majority of the financial services industry might make the possibility of facing a labor organizer seem remote to most bank and thrift managers. The highly publicized failure of eight women to organize Citizens National Bank of Willmar in Willmar, Minn., six years ago would seem to indicate that union organization in such institutions is distant.

Yet even though the Willmar Eight lost the original battle, their continuing effort has ramifications for the entire industry which should not be ignored. A recent NBC-TV drama on the Willmar situation, "A Matter of Sex," gave national attention to the concept of white-collar unionization and, as a result, may have helped to thaw the attitude of white-collar workers toward unions. In fact, employees at First American Bank & Trust of Willmar, which was organized by the technical, office, and professional division of the United Automobile Workers last year, publicly stated that they had followed the example set by the Willmar Eight. In addition, labor unions have been filing an ever-increasing number of National Labor Relations Board election petitions involving banks and thrifts. Union Efforts on the Rise

While only a handful of the U.S. financial associations are currently organized, union leaders contend that unionization is just on the brink of rapid expansion. There is continuing evidence that is not empty boasting. For example, in April of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit enforced a NLRB ruling against Exchange Bank in Mayfield, Ky., finding the bank guilty of unfair labor practices committed during an organizing drive and ordering the bank to bargain with the International Associations of Machinists. And this headline appeared in The Wall Street Journal on June 20, 1984; "Union Targets Bank Workers in Delaware."

The United Food and Commercial Workers and the Office and Professional Employees International unions are in the forefront of bank and thrift organization. Robert Cadwell, cheif of organizing at the food workers union, feels that financial institutions have traditionally been difficult to organize for a variety of reasons. With "banker's hours" and good benefits, employees have regarded unions as blue-collar phenomena incompatible with professionalism. Rapid employee turnover and numerous part-time employees have been cited by union leaders as having made bank organizing difficult. The American Bankers Association says the industry owes its nonunion status to its reputation as a solid, stable industry.

However, with increased use of automation and continuing deregulation, the rapidly changing financial services industry is being extensively revised as it grows more and more competitive. In the future, offices will become smaller, louder, and perhaps less comfortable, adding to the frustrations of many white-collar workers. According to a report published by the Administrative Management Society Foundation, there is now one visual display terminal for every 10 workers. By 1990, every two or three employees will have their own computer. …

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