Unions to target banks in new round of protests

Starting on Thursday at the Financial Services Roundtable’s annual meeting in Washington, labor activists will protest against big banks for returning to practices on corporate pay and other issues that led to the financial crisis.

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“They’re back to their old tricks and the same practices that caused this crisis in the first place,” said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “They’re getting bailed out and normal people are losing.”

Unions have lashed out at financial institutions throughout the crisis for receiving government bailout money while average Americans suffer from lost jobs and eroding bank accounts. Unions and other consumer advocates are particularly critical of banks for being slow to alter foreclosure policies and for collecting billions of dollars in overdraft fees on credit cards.

The government has supported the financial industry with trillions of dollars in taxpayer money to avert an economic depression and complete seizure of credit markets. The Obama administration is working to bolster the housing market and reduce the number of foreclosures, as well as to wind down government programs that are no longer necessary.

As the debate shifts to a legislative fight over financial reform, union advocates and others are criticizing banks for attempting to stall or scuttle new regulations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other financial trade groups are focusing in particular on an Obama administration proposal to create a new federal regulatory agency over consumer financial products. The financial industry is overwhelmingly opposed to the agency proposal and argues that it would raise costs on consumers and create unnecessary competition between existing federal regulators.

SEIU is organizing the protests alongside other union and community organizing groups. The protests will start on Thursday with a “modest crowd,” said Stephen Lerner, assistant to the SEIU president.

The protests lead up to a demonstration in Chicago between Oct. 25 and Oct. 27 at a meeting of the American Bankers Association (ABA), the largest bank lobbying association. “There will be thousands of people in Chicago,” Lerner said.

“The bankers at the convention are from smaller institutions and are community banks,” said John Hall, spokesman for ABA. “These are local bankers who are serving as the engine of recovery for their hometown economy. I think their target may be off in that regard.”

SEIU has planned additional protests on Oct. 2 in Charlotte, N.C., outside Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and during mid-October at a meeting of the Oregon Bankers Association.