How to Tell If Your Bank Is Vulnerable to Unionization

Article excerpt

The early part of the Clinton administration was a heady time for the Service Employees International Union.

At its office workers division convention in June, union president John Sweeney proclaimed that organizing efforts would be launched in such industries as banking, publishing, insurance, and education.

The office workers' District 925. a nationwide local, was already up to 200,000 clerical, technical, professional, educational, and other office employees.

Organizers in Power

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Clinton tapped Geri Palast, the former head of the union's politics and legislation department, as an assistant secretary of labor, and Tom Glynn, a former hospital organizer for the union in New England, as the No. 2 man at the Labor Department.

David Wilhelm, who formerly worked with the union at Citizens for Tax Justice, is the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Karen Nussbaum, president of the union's District 925 and executive director of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, has been chosen to head the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.

Service Employees International Union has plans "to sweep through the country," one of its local presidents said recently. "We have a sympathetic force behind us in Washington. It is up to us to do the rest."

Can a nonunion bank or other financial company tell in advance whether it is susceptible to unionization? Our research suggests there is no pat answer - but there are some clues as to susceptibility. Let me present those factors in the form of questions often asked by executives.

Q.: In number of employees, what size facility or office is most vulnerable to unionization?

A.: In the last five years, unions won about 47% of all National Labor Relations Board elections. The unions' success rate declines as size goes up. For example, unions won 64% of elections at firms with up to 49 employees, and 38% at those with from 1,000 to 10,000 employees.

Q.: How successful are the unions in the financial industry?

A.: Unions win 56% of represention elections in finance and insurance companies. Since this is higher than the 47% National Labor Relations Board average, this is a susceptible industry.

And no area of the country seems to be immune. Even where a company wins an election, its cost is considerable. Moreover, any company victory in a union election is good only for one year, after which the union may try again.

Q.: Statistics aside, are there specific criteria for ascertaining vulnerability of the work force of a particular company, department, or branch?

A.: Watch for symptoms of low employee morale. If your customer or client complaints are higher than you like, or if productivity is unsatisfactory, you can conclude that employees are indifferent and morale is low.

Q.: What causes low morale?

A.: In the main, a basic feeling that the company (or facility manager or supervisor) does not treat workers fairly, decently, and honestly. This feeling usually has nothing to do with money.

Q.: Do computers and backoffice modernization have any effect on employee attitudes?

A.: Union organizers promise all sorts of protection against job losses from automation. When installing equipment, a bank must explain that the ultimate objective is not merely to cut costs, but to meet customer or client demands for improved services. …