Wells Fargo is a roadblock to economic recovery. That's what members of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) are claiming, as they literally blocked a busy Rock Island, Illinois, intersection late last week to protest Wells Fargo's decision to cut off credit to the Quad City Die Casting factory.
100 Quad City factory employees risk losing their jobs if Wells Fargo doesn't extend tens of thousands of dollars in credit to continue day-to-day operating costs. So why won't Wells Fargo use some of its $25 billion in bailout funds to keep this factory afloat, particularly when the Illinois-Iowa Quad Cities region is losing $6.1 million in wages and tax revenue annually? According to UE organizer Leah Fried, "[Wells Fargo] want[s] to get out from under the TARP money because they want to get out from the scrutiny. They're hoarding." Wells Fargo has even gone so far as to prevent the company from paying the wages and benefits owed to its employees, which prompted UE to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board last week.
Across the country, we're seeing more and more protests like this one. As journalist/labor activist Mike Elk recently noted, these public demonstrations are highly effective ways of bringing national attention to the bailed out banks that are cutting off credit and have done pathetically little to jump-start our ailing economy. We saw this last December, when laid-off UE workers held sit-ins at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago because Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase wouldn't fork over credit for the company to pay severance.
More recently, workers of Hartmarx, the Chicago-area men's apparel company, won out over Wells Fargo when union members threatened a sit-in. The protest prompted Congressional outrage toward Wells Fargo, as Elk reported:
As a result of the worker's resolve to fight the company, they received a large degree of political and community support. Over 43 members of Congress signed a letter calling on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to investigate Wells Fargo's use of bailout money. Congressman Phil Hare, a former worker at Harmarx, promised to be Wells Fargo's "worst nightmare" if they closed the plant. Finally, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias brought Wells Fargo to their knees when he threatened to cut off $8 billion dollars worth of business that the state does with Wells Fargo if they closed the plant.
Under pressure from the local to the national level, Wells Fargo had little choice but to approve the sale of Hartmarx to a new London-based owner that would keep both the company in operation and the majority of its 4,000 workers employed. And now that UE has taken action on behalf of Quad City Die Casting, there's a good chance that company will be saved as well. Yesterday, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias pledged to "fight hard" to keep the Quad City factory from closing. It was Giannoulias who threatened to take away $8 billion in state business from Wells Fargo if the bank refused to approve the Hartmarx sale.
You can help bring Quad City Die Casting to Congress's attention by signing UE's letter to the House and Senate Banking Committees.