EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from Lake Michigan Credit Union officials as well as additional comments from the Committee for Better Banks.
WYOMING — Workers at Lake Michigan Credit Union’s South Division Avenue branch near Grand Rapids have voted to unionize.
The Communications Workers of America said today that staff at the LMCU branch in Wyoming voted to join the union in an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“What we wanted was to ensure a strong relationship between our members, our colleagues, and LMCU branch leadership. Now, with a seat at the table, we are able to achieve exactly that. With a union, we can work directly with upper management to address the longstanding issues that we’ve had in our branch, so that we can better serve our customers and our community,” Ivan Diaz, a member service representative at LMCU, said in a statement.
The Committee for Better Banks, a coalition of bank employees, advocacy groups, and labor unions, issued the announcement on the election results.
“This is not just a win for us. It’s a win for workers at other LMCU branches, banks, and financial services institutions who are looking to form a union in 2023,” Diaz said.
A majority of employees at LMCU’s South Division Avenue branch filed a petition in December with the NLRB for an election to decide whether to form a union with representation from the Communications Workers of America.
The petition sought a union vote on behalf of 13 full-time and part-time tellers and member service representatives, according to the NLRB petition. The vote excluded supervisors, branch managers, assistant branch managers, clerical employees, professional employees, commercial loan and residential loan employees, and guards.
Credit union officials called the vote “unfortunate.”
“At LMCU, we have long been focused on providing excellent employment and career opportunities with competitive wages and benefits in a welcoming work environment, so we view this vote as unfortunate,” the credit union said in a statement to MiBiz that indicated employees voted 7-5 to join the union.
“Open communications with all LMCU team members is something we strive for and, in our opinion, outside unions have their own agenda that doesn’t necessarily benefit staff or members as promised, and oftentimes doesn’t align with what the credit union hopes is in the best interest of our valued staff. We have shared before that we believe unions are unnecessary for LMCU to maintain the high employment standards and customer service that our team members work hard every day to deliver,” the credit union said. “Our South Division branch team members remain a valuable part of LMCU, and we look forward to their ongoing focus and support in always doing what is best for our members and their financial well-being.”
However, in a letter last month to LMCU CEO Sandra Jelinski, employees cited concerns that they were “underappreciated and undercompensated” and how bilingual workers at one of the credit union’s busiest branches were moved to other departments without additional compensation.
LMCU is the largest credit based in Michigan with 67 branches, including 20 in markets on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The credit union as of Sept. 30 had $11.7 billion in total assets, nearly 452,000 members and more than 6,700 employees, according to a quarterly financial report to the National Credit Union Administration.
Through the first three quarters of 2022, LMCU recorded $124.6 million in net income.
The vote at LMCU represents the latest victory in efforts to unionize workers in the financial services industry.
The Communications Workers of America last year organized staff at Genesee Federal Co-Op Credit Union in Rochester, N.Y., a small credit union with $37.7 million in assets and more than 4,000 members, and in 2020 at the $1.5 billion-asset Beneficial State Bank in Oakland, Calif.
The Committee for Better Banks has also been pushing a union drive at Wells Fargo Bank that involved more than 600 workers in 29 states.
“Organizing a union is never an easy feat, but LMCU workers know that to best support their local community, they need a voice on the job,” Committee for Better Banks Organizing Director Nick Weiner said. “Today, workers in Lake Michigan made it clear that 2023 will be the year for unions across financial services.”
LMCU staff at other branches have since reached out to inquire about unionizing, Weiner added.
“Workers at Lake Michigan Credit Union’s South Division branch have made history by voting to form a union. In fact, their victorious NLRB election, the first in the industry in decades, is a source of inspiration for bankers, tellers, customer service representatives and workers across the financial sector, including LMCU colleagues at other branches,” Weiner wrote in an email to MiBiz. “Already, we’ve heard from a number of LMCU workers across Michigan who have expressed their excitement for the South Division workers and interest in their organizing effort. We’re confident LMCU South Division workers will be the first of many in the financial services industry to win a seat at the table in 2023.”