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We bailed out Wells Fargo, now we’re locked out of jobs

The author is a member of the USW Local 6996 and Unit Chair at Hofmann Industries.

When I paid my tax obligations last year, I trusted and abided by government official’s decision to bail out the banks in hopes that it would fix the troubled economy, stimulate job creation, and improve the corporate sense of responsibility and loyalty to the people that bailed them out.

Photo by Jacob Appelbaum

But I didn’t expect that one of those same banks that I helped bail out would, in turn, play a role in locking me, and other union workers, out of a job.

That is exactly what happened in Sinking Spring, Pa where Wells Fargo is destroying jobs by indirectly siding with an employer over a labor union dispute.  Wells Fargo is a lender to Hofmann Industries, a steel tube fabricator that locked out 51 United Steelworker members for over a year after disagreements regarding union worker’s compensation and rights.

As members of a union, we were taking a stand against practices that were unjust for American workers. In a direct slap to the face, Wells Fargo extended a line of credit allowing Hofmann Industries to continue operations despite the lockout. With the help of Wells Fargo, Hofmann Industries resumed production with low-paid replacement workers.   Negotiations with the union have been sporadic, meaning the lockout has continued, and 51 people are out of work.

Where is the job creation that was supposed to come from the bailout package? If anything, Wells Fargo is depleting good-paying jobs from the community. I am a prime example of a job lost.

This doesn’t even begin to touch the tip of the surface to the contribution that Wells Fargo has made to the current unemployment situation. According to their recent corporate announcements, Wells Fargo cut 6,385 jobs last year alone even after the bailout and record profits. Meanwhile, their 2011 proxy report indicates that the top 5 Wells Fargo executives raked in over $50 million in one year. This is a prime example of corporate executives continuing to profit while the rest of the 99% fight simply for just working conditions and livable wages.

In union attempts to contact their leadership directly, response letters have indicated, “Wells Fargo does not intervene in matters between labor unions and employers.” It seems to me that they are interfering with this dispute already by choosing to fund Hofmann Industries.

Furthermore, this short-sighted decision from Wells Fargo to continue lending to Hofmann doesn’t just hurt my family and my community. It hurts Wells Fargo’s own bottom line. As part of the bailout, Wells Fargo bought Wachovia for $12.7 billion, creating the nation’s second largest bank. Many of those that have been unemployed for the last year as result of this lockout could soon default on their mortgages with this company, leading to some of the same full circle problems that triggered the bailout mess.

Wells Fargo refers to itself regularly as a “community based” financial institution. With its tagline “Together we’ll go far,” it needs to actually start supporting the community and working together with the rest of the 99% instead of catering to corporate values.

For this reason, I am joining the 99% Power coalition fighting for a more just economy for everyday Americans and not just the top 1 percent.  This spring, people around the country are calling on these corporations to pay their fair share in taxes, create good jobs in our communities, stop lavishing millions on executives while cutting jobs, and keep their corporate money out of our democracy.

Today,  on April 24, I am  traveling to the Wells Fargo shareholder meeting to represent members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6996 to stand up for the rights of union workers and send a message to Wells Fargo that being a “community based” financial institutions means supporting the people of that community and particularly the unions. We had their backs in the bailout, and we expect they’ll return the favor to at least help us stand up for our own rights.


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Jeff Pepple

Jeff Pepple