Never too Big to Organize

LIUNA Local 199 took on huge multinational bank, JPMorgan Chase (and won)

With a market value of some $460 Billion, JPMorgan Chase is a huge corporation to say the least. The multinational investment bank and financial service holding company has offices all over the world, but the decisions they make and actions they take affect local families, businesses, and communities. This is why Delaware-based Local 199 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)–along with its affiliated funds–decided to take on the corporate giant. Big companies can put a big hurt on the little guy, and sometimes the little guy has to fight back.

Yes then No

JP Morgan Chase has big expansion plans for its Chase Bank. New brick-and-mortar retail branches are being built throughout Northern Delaware. Local 199 Business Manager James Maravelias was aware of that fact which is why he approached representatives to JPMorgan Chase about hiring union contractors and skilled union labor to build their proposed branches.

“To me, hiring union contractors and workers is a good business decision,” explained Maravelias.  “A company like JPMorgan Chase would benefit from productivity, dependability, and quality construction.  They seemed to agree with me when they promised to hire a union masonry contractor for one of its new branches in Wilmington, Delaware. When time came to actually do the hiring, however, the bank was silent on their promise. As a result, we decided we’d remind them, and the community, that breaking one’s word is no way to operate.”

Taking it to the Streets

With so many branches in the immediate area, LIUNA Local 199 had ample opportunity to let the public know of JPMorgan Chase’s underhanded practices.  Working with the Laborers Eastern Region Organizing Fund (LEROF), Local 199 members joined organizers at information lines near Chase Bank customers.  While many people were sympathetic to the union message, the actions did not lead to a positive outcome, so the union decided to shift strategies and bring the message to JPMorgan Chase’s corporate headquarters in New York City. With huge corporations like this, you sometimes need to bring your message to the top, and that would be JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Diamond. 

The Delaware and New Jersey LECET Funds joined LEROF researchers on a deep dive of JPMorgan Chase’s business practices. With pages upon pages worth of information at-hand, the union laid out a pattern of questionable business practices—from averaging more than $1.7 billion in fines each year, to settling lawsuits on racial discrimination and discriminatory lending practices, to having a lower tax rate than the average America (despite reporting almost $120 billion in net revenues last year).   As the union spelled out in flyers, signs, and conversations, going back on the promise to hire local contractors and local workers in Delaware was another example of poor corporate behavior.

Yes Again

In an organization as large as JPMorgan Chase, you don’t always find out what message or method helped change their mind but change their minds they did.  The Wilmington. Delaware branch that was supposed to be built using union contractors would be built union again. 

For LIUNA Local 199, the focus now moves from information lines and activism to delivering quality craftsmanship.  “We will always fight and scrap to win work,” explained Maravelias, “but longer term, we want to build mutually beneficial relationships with project owners like JPMorgan Chase. We want them to know that when you work with LIUNA, you work with a union that wants its partners to succeed and will do what it takes to make that happen.”