February 14, 2009

Remember John's post on banks using bailout monies to continue to lobby and organize against the Employee Free Choice Act? Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) wanted to make sure that BofA CEO Ken Lewis wasn't using our taxpayer dollars to prevent employees from unionizing. And Lewis assured Ellison that he was working in his company's best interests.

What does Ken Lewis mean by "best interest of our company?" To us, a company is not just the executives and shareholders, but its employees, its customers, and its community.

So it's tough to reconcile Lewis' apparent opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act with an internal Bank of America memo about the bill. In that memo, Bank of America admitted the bill would mean:

increased spending power of lower income consumers as this would be a de facto wage and benefit increase.

Let's get this straight: Bank of America admits that the Employee Free Choice Act would raise wages and benefits for consumers, pumping money into our flailing economy. But Bank of America will apparently continue its efforts to fight this bill despite knowing it can help the economy.

Ken Lewis makes $9,803 an hour, while his tellers - those that make Bank of America run - make $10-$15 an hour. A number of Lewis' 247,000 employees lack adequate health coverage and instead depend on state subsidies." While Lewis himself did not take a bonus for last year, Lewis made sure that high level staff still got bonuses even though Bank of America recently announced it was laying off another 35,000 employees.

So, we've got to ask. Is it really in the best interest of "the company" to actively lobby against measures that would improve the lives of very same people that work within the company - or is it just in the best interest of Ken Lewis?

Good question. In fact, Jason Lefkowitz has more on the organizing these bailed-out banks are hatching:

(W)e were alarmed to discover that the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR) — the lobbying organization for the banking industry — was organizing a meeting there that would bring together CEOs from several bailed-out banks to coordinate their opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

It’s no secret that some bankers have been taking taxpayers’ bailout money and using it to keep you from having the power to decide for yourself whether or not to join together in a union with your coworkers. [..]

Given that, when we found out about the bank CEOs’ plans to meet in Florida on the taxpayer’s dime to continue to push this anti-worker agenda, we decided to blow the whistle on their egregious misuse of their bailout funds.

So our Chair, Anna Burger, wrote a letter to FSR President Steve Bartlett (PDF) in which she outlined why the meeting was a bad idea and urged him to reconsider:

The failure of the financial services industry to manage risk has led to the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. And, while the managers responsible for the meltdown benefit from a taxpayer bailout that soon could exceed one trillion dollars, millions of workers are losing their jobs and many more are losing their retirement savings. At a time when the industry must devote every effort to economic recovery, it is shameful that the Financial Services Roundtable makes lobbying against the right of workers to organize a legislative priority and, worse yet, is using taxpayer-financed TARP subsidies to do so…

The Roundtable’s partisan political priorities are especially disturbing given that your members have so far received the lion’s share of federal bailout funds. According to current data on your website, Roundtable members account for 78 percent of the $256 billion in capital injections so far approved for financial services firms under TARP. In addition to providing the Roundtable with substantial membership dues, TARP recipients are also major contributors to your PAC.

Because making sure bailout funds are spent responsibly is an American issue, not a Democratic or Republican issue, she sent copies of the letter to both the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Congressional committees that oversee the banking industry, as well as to Elizabeth Warren, chair of the panel empowered by Congress to provide oversight on the bailout program.

Those leaders listened. [..] However, even as Lewis defended his corporation’s right to spend taxpayer dollars lobbying to restrict your rights, his friends at the Financial Services Roundtable were thinking that maybe having their meeting at a luxurious resort wasn’t the best PR idea after all. On Thursday, FSR announced that it was moving its meeting from Florida to an undisclosed (and presumably more Spartan) location in Washington, D.C.

So that’s a big chunk of your money that’s going to be saved. You’d think that would make bean-counters happy, right? Apparently not the bean-counters at the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page this morning blares with condemnations that we restricted the bank CEOs’ free speech rights by having the gall to question how they choose to spend your money

Meanwhile, the NY Times is reporting that these banks are still insolvent and will require even more aid. So let's see if this makes sense: CEOs making well into the seven figures (or more) have run these banking institutions into the ground and not only get to keep their jobs while taking taxpayer money, but are actively organizing to make things worse for their employees and wasting taxpayer dollars on things like five day Superbowl parties but it is we--the lowly non-screwups--being castigated by the WSJ for wondering WTF is going on?

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