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America's Most Union-Friendly Bank Raises Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour

In a push to make tellers the next front of the Fight for 15, Amalgamated Bank CEO Keith Mestrich is raising pay, and calling on the industry to follow.

Jeff Chiu / AP

Under their freshly negotiated contract, tellers and all other workers at union-owned Amalgamated Bank will make at least a $15 an hour as a starting wage, President and CEO Keith Mestrich told BuzzFeed News Wednesday.

Negotiated and ratified last week, the contract took effect retroactively on July 1, making the country's largest union-owned bank the first financial institution to throw its weight behind the national Fight for 15 campaign to raise pay for low-wage workers.

"We think it's the right thing for our bank to do, and frankly we think it's the right thing for all banks to do," said Mestrich. "If any industry in this country can afford to set a new minimum for its workers, it's the banking industry."

Founded by garment workers in 1923, Amalgamated today counts both the Democratic National Committee and Occupy Wall Street as clients. Its workers are unionized through the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, and the raise will primarily affect tellers, mail-room workers, and security guards.

Mestrich said he hopes the raise will signal to others in the sector that banks can and should pay their workforces living wages. Other private companies, such as Aetna and Facebook, have independently raised pay for their workers to at least $15 an hour over the last year; cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have passed local minimums at that rate. Most recently, a New York state wage board recommended a $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast food workers.

The move by Amalgamated comes as a union-backed effort is pushing the banking industry to raise pay for its frontline staff. A coalition of community groups called the Committee for Better Banks, supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union, has been organizing tellers and other low-wage bank workers since before last October.

They also rally workers on Twitter around the pre-existing hashtag #tellerprobs, a natural forum for grievance-airing, from interactions with space-cadet customers to talk of pay and hours.


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