Shifting deposits to the union-owned Amalgamated Bank has become a leftist cause celebre, as several Democratic and progressive groups try to be seen as dissociating themselves from the politically incorrect Bank of America. However, as I outline in the Daily Caller, Amalgamated Bank’s recent history, which includes a bitter struggle over its control, muddies the left’s portrayal of Amalgamated as an oasis of virtue in the otherwise corrupt world of finance.
Amalgamated Bank is controlled by a subsidiary of the powerful Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU), which won control over the bank as a result of a protracted union civil war. Stern, a political heavy hitter during his tenure at the helm of SEIU, was the most frequent visitor to the White House for most of the first year of the Obama presidency.
The struggle over the control of Amalgamated is itself indicative of private sector union’s weakness and of the extent to which they are willing to go to preserve their influence.
The SEIU subsidiary, Workers United, itself broke away from UNITE-HERE, which was itself the result of the 2004 merger of two unions representing workers in two unrelated industries, hospitality and textile manufacturing: the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) and UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, itself the product of a series of textile union mergers).
UNITE, which previously controlled Amalgamated Bank, had seen its organizing prospects diminish as U.S. textile producers have shifted labor-intensive production overseas. HERE, on the other hand, faced better organizing opportunities with service workers. So, the two unions decided to combine HERE’s potential for organizing with UNITE’s assets.
Such cross-industry mergers are a relatively recent phenomenon. They have become more common in recent years, as private sector unions seek to reverse — or at least stop — their decline in membership numbers. Thus, they are a sign of union weakness.
The merger eventually failed, but its outcome raises the question: How far does the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) influence extend?
For the full story of the struggle over Amalgamated, see here.
For background on UNITE-HERE, see here.