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Deborah Axt is on the Board of the Make the Road Action Fund, which together with New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, and the Communications Workers of America, form the Committee for Better Banks. Make the Road Action Fund and its sister organization, Make the Road New York, represent about 27,000 working class and immigrant New Yorkers through community organizing, policy design, and the provision of legal and survival services. Deborah is an attorney and is the lead architect of Make the Road's low wage worker organizing and policy work, leading low wage organizing in multiple sectors.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Here's something you might not know. One in three bank employees in New York State are on public assistance. That's according to a new report released by New Day New York Coalition titledLeveraging New York's Financial Power to Combat Inequality. And this news comes almost two months after the University of California Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois published a study that said that more than 50 percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance programs due to their low wages.
Here to talk about the report is Deborah Axt. She's on the board of the Make the Road Action Fund, which together with New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, and Communications Workers of America from the Committee for Better Banks wrote the report.
Thanks for joining us, Deborah.
DEBORAH AXT, BOARD MEMBER, MAKE THE ROAD ACTION FUND: Thank you so much for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Deborah, can you just described for us the conditions for the average teller in the United States banking industry?
AXT: Yes. I mean, what we're talking about here are jobs that the public generally perceives to be entry-level jobs on a path to a professional career. And what they really are, often, is completely dead-end jobs, where workers are trapped in forcibly part-timed work, low-wage work, with high-pressure sales goals, sometimes wage theft, even. And, you know, these are really rough jobs. Workers report often being pressured to sell deals, products, bank accounts, credit cards that are not necessarily in the best interests of the clients, and that they realize this is true but have no ability to blow the whistle on these kinds of unethical practices at the banks.
DESVARIEUX: So what are your recommendations for alleviating some of these issues?
AXT: Well, the first thing is that we need to make sure that that workers have a path to speak out. We need to make sure that there are whistleblower protections in place in states and cities like New York and that we don't give out subsidies. Right now we're giving out hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to big banks in New York City and New York State alone with very little accountability for the job creation goals that are involved in those deals, and certainly with no checks with workers to make sure that they are being treated well and that their jobs are helping to lift people out of poverty.
DESVARIEUX: I'm sure there are some people listen to this saying that at the end of the day there needs to be some form of unionization. Is that your ultimate goal? Are you hoping that tellers eventually will organize themselves to form a union?
AXT: Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, and CWA that form the Committee for Better Banks have certainly had a long history of helping workers to organize into worker centers, into unions where appropriate. And so we believe strongly that workers need the right to organize and that they should be supported by the community members that we represent as well. And so we are here and would have their backs if that's what they choose.
This is just the first step at looking at this industry. We have been actively organizing in car washes and supermarkets and in fast food restaurants, but we've just turned our attention to the banking industry to see what was going on with workers there and were shocked to discover that the treatment in the banking industry is much like the treatment in other exploitative low-wage industries. But this is a place that you wouldn't expect it. This is the place where the boss, the CEO, is actually the boss of capitalism, right, the boss of our international economic system. You know, they're billionaires. They are well compensated. This is an industry that certainly can afford to treat workers properly, to treat workers with dignity.
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