Workers Blast Wells Fargo as Roadblock to Recovery
What are the banks doing with our bailout billions? In a small factory in western Illinois, Wells Fargo has become a huge roadblock to economic recovery. Several hundred angry people shared their frustration with the bank, marching in the pouring rain June 11 at its Chicago offices.
Quad City Die Casting is a small Moline, Illinois, factory that’s made precision metal parts for 60 years for loyal customers like Kawasaki and Case New Holland. Like many businesses, its orders have dropped recently, but it hasn’t lost any customers. In lean times like these financing is essential for day-to-day operations.
But Wells Fargo, which has had a long-term financial relationship with the firm that includes managing its defined-benefit pension, pulled its credit, prompting the company to announce it would close July 12. Workers were left wondering what Wells Fargo’s $25 billion in TARP bailout money was for in the first place.
More than 100 employees will join unemployment rolls if Quad City closes.
“I’ve worked there for 31 years—half my life,” said Deb Johann, recording secretary of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1174. “My husband and I just bought a house last year. Now I don’t know if we are going to be moving to a cardboard box. It’s not right what Wells Fargo is doing with our money!”
UE is demanding that Wells Fargo continue financing until alternative credit or a new buyer can be located.
ESCALATION, NOT DESPAIR
One of the first obstacles for workers to overcome was despair. “Most people felt hopeless and questioned me whether or not it was worth it to try and fight for our jobs,” Johann said. “But once they saw us in action, they began to believe and get more involved.”
The first step was to send a delegation of workers to Wells Fargo corporate offices in Davenport, Iowa. Local President Keith Scribner said they handed a request to talk about financing to the president of the bank’s eastern region, who told them he couldn’t speak with them due to “privacy concerns.”
So the pressure began. A week later, on June 2, a large rally was held in Rock Island, Illinois, at a Wells Fargo branch. Members of the Quad City Federation of Labor were out in strong numbers as well as representatives of local congressmen. UE members presented a large “default notice” to Wells Fargo for defaulting on their obligations to the American people.
“We are talking about thousands of dollars needed, not millions, certainly not billions, to save our jobs, homes, cars, and our children’s education,” said local Vice President Frank Kauslarich. “We are never going to see an economic recovery without jobs.”
Most banks are desperate to get away from the public scrutiny that has come with the bailout billions. They are trying to pay back the money as soon as possible—which could mean limiting loans instead of extending the credit small businesses need. They are eager to return to business as usual: large bonuses and lavish trips for their executives.
Meanwhile, UE members at Quad City Die Casting are prepared to ramp up their fight for jobs. Helping them are UE members from the former Republic Windows plant in Chicago (which has a new owner and is slowly recalling workers). Last December, when Bank of America terminated credit to Republic and the company closed, UE members electrified the labor movement by occupying the factory.
“We are with you all the way. One thing we learned is if you do not fight you cannot win,” declared UE Local 1110 Vice President Melvin Maclin. The soaked supporters at the Chicago rally chanted to Wells Fargo: “We’ll be back!”