Where are the unions?

In These Times

Grupo Santander, the global banking giant, last year took control of Sovereign Bank.

The largest bank in the Euro-zone, where it is based, Santander is the world’s eighth largest banking company by market capitalization. While the company is very good at generating profits around the world (it’s the world’s fourth largest bank by profits), this international meeting is focusing on something else: how the bank’s new U.S. branches might become as unionized as branches in Europe and Latin America.

Santander bank branches are on average 75-percent unionized outside the United States, according to UNI Global Union Finance Director Oliver Roethig because most other industrialized nations have unionized banking sectors. In the United States, however, less than 1 percent of all front-office bank workers are organized. In fact, the unionized janitors working for contractors that clean Sovereign Bank’s headquarters in Boston, Mass., often make more than the bank tellers and personal bankers, whose average wage is $10-$12 dollars per hour, despite individually producing millions of dollars in profits for the bank each year.

But the financial sector, at the center of the U.S. economy, has never been unionized. The international workers and local leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Communication Workers of America (CWA) gathered in July to use the clout of global union federations like the UNI Global Union to give labor a foothold in Santander’s Sovereign operations, and potentially organize the industry from there. If Santander employees are heavily unionized overseas, and corporate profits are so robust, then why shouldn’t American workers also join a union?

Hmmm…these unions didn’t destroy Sartander? Puzzling. Next post let’s look at some numbers for Big Labor in the States.