Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union workers form union | News
Workers at the Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union have formed a union, a rare move for staff at a financial institution.
The Genesee Co-op, which is located on Gregory Street, is a member-owned credit union with 12 employees and manages $35 million in assets. The vote to form a union was unanimous and 10 of the bank’s employees are now represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
“Credit unions are truly owned, managed and supported by their members and their communities, and the employees are part of that community as well,” said Nolan Noble, a loan officer who worked at the credit union for four years. . “It’s crazy how much their voice is taken away from them. Employees have a right to be at the table, to have a voice and to defend themselves.”
Noble said the decision to unionize was a long time coming due to a lack of raises, long hours and poor wages. But the tipping point was the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans that the bank processed and originated. Federal government loans, which were administered through banks and credit unions, bore 1% interest, and canceled loans of which at least 60% went to payroll.
Genesee Co-op has processed approximately $500,000 in loans to businesses across the state, mostly small businesses.
“We’ve been working tirelessly for two months, and there have been two waves of PPP lending, we’re talking non-stop work, work, work,” Noble said. “It was really difficult and it was really rewarding because we knew that if we didn’t do it, the companies wouldn’t make it.”
“…And then at the end, management kind of looked at us and said, ‘Hey, you did that.'”
Noble and the staff at Genesee Co-op believed they deserved more than a “job well done”. One of the staff knew someone who worked with CWA, so the employees reached out. The workers then approached their superiors and informed them of their intention to unionise.
The Communications Workers of America pushed for greater unionization of financial institutions, citing the need for better working conditions for employees and changes in corporate and financial institution cultures. He particularly focused on fear of reprisals from workers for speaking out against unethical lending practices, such as those that fueled the 2008 financial crisis.
Genesee Co-op chief operating officer Dan Apfel said bank staff first approached management in September to announce plans to unionize.
“When approached, from the start, we said we were an institution that values our community and economic justice, and if our staff wants to have a union, we support workers’ rights,” Apfel said. “And we wanted to work with them in the best way possible to help them do that.”
Genesee Co-op has a long history of supporting progressive financial policies. In 2020, the bank backed the Excelsior Banking Network, a proposal by former Governor Andrew Cuomo that would have used $25 million in public funds to create a public bank to increase access to basic banking services.
The bank also employs staff fluent in Somali, Swahili and Nepali to better serve Rochester’s refugee population.
Supporting unionization was, in a way, an opportunity for management to live up to its own values, Apfel said. The credit union has pledged to remain neutral in the staffing process, he added.
The unionization effort may already be bearing fruit. Bank workers have already received a $2,000 bonus and are now embroiled in the collective bargaining process. High on their list of demands are better pensions and raises for employees.
Gino Fanelli is a staff writer at CITY. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected]