U.S. Santander workers warn European counterparts: Don’t let Santander drag down industry standards with unfair practices
Santander workers from the United States have a message for their European counterparts: Unions are a critical part of an ethical and sustainable financial system.
Three employees from the Santander’s Texas call centre met with unionised workers from Santander and other financial institutions in London and Brussels this month to describe how the lack of labour protections can lead to unscrupulous practices.
“We’re here to warn our European colleagues to not let Santander drag down global industry standards, and to ask for their support,” said Quarlondra Coleman, a long-time Santander employee in Texas fired after participating in a union organising campaign with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Committee for Better Banks. “Santander’s pressure and unrealistic goals pushed us to offer services that were not always in customers’ best interests without explaining the consequences.”
A recent report, “Wheeling and Dealing in Misfortune,” exposes a culture in Santander’s automotive lending operation that pushes high-interest loan modifications and hidden fees on millions of Americans. Workers say they must aggressively collect on overdue bills—at all costs—or risk losing their jobs.
Santander has had to pay millions in the United States for auto-loan practices one regulator called “outrageous,” and is currently facing additional investigations.
The U.S. workers are trying to reform the bank through organising a union. Having a union, they say, would give them a voice in the banks’ operations and would give them a credible vehicle to report abuses.
In London, the U.S. workers met with union leaders from UNITE and the Communications Workers Union (CWU) who represent Santander workers and unionised Santander employees.
Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary of the CWU said "We have a good working relationship with Santander UK and are totally supportive of the CWA's campaign to achieve similar recognition and representation in the US. The first step must be for Santander in the United States to adopt a clear neutral position in allowing their workers to freely join a trade union without fear of losing their jobs."
After London, workers went to Brussels and won the support of the UNI Europa Finance Committee, comprised of the largest finance unions in Europe. Santander is based in Spain. The committee passed a resolution calling for Santander to not interfere with workers’ efforts to form a union.
“UNI Finance is standing with U.S. Santander workers and the CWA to demand a fair process to form a union,” said Head of UNI Finance Angelo Di Cristo. “Santander’s code of conduct says that it respects workers’ fundamental rights, but in the United States, Santander has perpetuated an environment of mistrust that intimidates employees.”
Di Cristo continued, “In spite of recognising, union rights and collective bargaining in every other country where Santander operates, it puts roadblocks in U.S. workers’ efforts to engage discussion about ending obstacles to unionisation. UNI Finance is demanding that Santander end this conduct in the US and start a path with the union for a genuine social dialogue.”
On November 6, hundreds of workers made a demand for neutrality from Santander management in the United States, saying they currently face an anti-union climate.