Regulating from the Ground Up: Controlling Financial Institutions with Bank Workers’ Unions

Emma Cusumano*

In the Wells Fargo accounts scandal, millions of banking accounts were created for customers without their consent. The scan dal cost Wells Fargo customers millions of dollars in direct and indirect charges. Investigations revealed that employees were pressured into creating these false accounts through abusive bank- ing practices promulgated from the top. These practices are not unique to Wells Fargo; instead, they are ubiquitous in the financial services industry.

Current financial regulations do not adequately address how to mitigate banks’ harmful practices. This comment explores the premise that bank worker unionization could serve as a much-needed check on the power of financial institutions and the directors and officers who run them. The comment provides an overview of why large financial institutions are incentivized to engage in harmful and economically unsound banking practices. The comment then outlines the potential for unions to constrain abusive commercial banking interests and recounts current efforts to unionize bank workers. Finally, the comment argues that threats to dismantle current consumer protection enforcement and banking regulations call for a new, worker-centered approach to hold financial institutions accountable to the public.

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* J.D. Candidate, 2019, University of Richmond School of Law. B.A. & Sc., 2013, McGill University. I owe my gratitude to Professor Ann Hodges not only for her guidance in writing and researching this comment, but also for introducing me to the world of labor law with enthusiasm and insight. I would also like to thank the University of Richmond Law Review staff and editors for their excellent work in preparing this comment for publication.

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