On Human Rights Day, Workers Ask, “What’s Gone Wrong At Chase?”

In Solidarity with International Human Rights Day (Dec 10), AFL-CIO Central Labor Councils, the UAW, and FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) organized more than 100 events at Chase bank branches across the country. In California, the Alameda Labor Council, Contra Costa Labor Council, LA County Federation of Labor, Sacramento Central Labor Council, and San Mateo Central Labor Council organized handbill actions highlighting Chase bank’s bad practices and banking relationship with Reynolds Tobacco.

Union members and community partners educated Chase bank patrons and passersby with a flyer that said “Chase Bank: What’s Gone Wrong?”. Chase wants to be seen as a socially responsible corporation stating that its business practices are guided by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, Chase is Number 1 in foreclosures, many processed improperly, causing great harm to American homeowners. Chase is also a lead banker for Reynolds Tobacco.

Each year tens of thousands of migrant farm workers travel to North Carolina for the tobacco harvest. These workers do not work for Reynolds or for Chase; they are employed by growers who may not be part of Reynolds’ supply chain.

But both Reynolds and Chase are in a position to influence the living and working conditions of tobacco workers. Studies show that many workers suffer from sub-minimum wages, corrupt crew leaders, unacceptable conditions in labor camps, and serious health risks, including heat stroke and acute nicotine poisoning from the tobacco plants they tend. Half of farm worker households cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families, and more than one-third of housing for farm workers on the East Coast is severely inadequate or unfit for human habitation. The average income of a tobacco farm worker was just $11,000 in 2009, not even half the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Our demands to Chase are clear:

  • Chase should declare a nationwide moratorium on home foreclosures until an independent committee of community leaders certifies the fairness of the process.
  • Chase should undertake responsibility for the fair treatment of tobacco farm workers by helping the Farm Labor Organizing Committee which represents tobacco farm workers address human rights abuses in the tobacco fields and call Reynolds Tobacco to a meeting with FLOC.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), said he hopes the protests will move Chase Bank to demand socially responsible behavior up and down the tobacco industry supply chain.

Farm workers face job-related hazards, including heat stroke, pesticide and acute nicotine poisoning. If Chase wants to continue lending money to cigarette manufacturers, it should facilitate talks that could lead to improved conditions and saved lives.