Unionized Banking in the USA

Bank Tellers Serving Elderly Male Customer
Those of you who follow Timyan Bank Alert closely know that I'm on a tear about unionized banks in the US.

Evaluating Amalgamated and AmeriServ's respective performance in the context of unionized banking has me seeing the recent Wells Fargo branch unionization in an entirely new light.

Disclosure: As of this posting, I own shares in ASRV, CNAF, and WFC, and may subsequently either dispose of them or purchase more.

A Brief History
There have been three waves of bank unionization in the US. Interest in organizing in the industry appears to surge every 50 years.

1st Wave (1920s)
At least 50 of our nation's oldest banks were unionized from the start. Of these, only three remain, but all can be said to be performing well.
  1. Amalgamated Bank of Chicago (1922)
  2. Amalgamated Bank of New York (1923)
  3. Bank of Labor, Kansas City (1924)
2nd Wave (1970s)
Three banks were unionized during the second wave. None are exemplary performers.
  1. AmeriServ, founded in 1901, unionized in 1971
  2. CNA Financial, founded in 1934, unionized in 1973
  3. Union Bank and Trust, founded by unions in 1976
3rd Wave (2020s)
Two recent labor organization successes suggest we are in the third wave of bank unionization. So far, Beneficial Bank has performed poorly since unionizing in 2020. How the Wells Fargo branch unionized in 2023 will perform remains to be seen. Is a third predictable, based on prior waves?
  1. Beneficial Bank and Trust
  2. Wells Fargo Albuquerque, New Mexico branch

There's a case to be made for increasing Union Ownership in US banks.

Generally speaking, unionized banks that were both founded by unions and maintained significant Union ownership have performed much better than their peers.

Four of the aforementioned unionized banks boast Union Ownership — the old-schoolers, plus 70's newcomer Union Bank and Trust:
  1. Amalgamated Bank of Chicago
  2. Amalgamated Bank of New York
  3. Bank of Labor, Kansas City
  4. Union Bank and Trust
The average ROA and ROE for these four banks are 1.2% and 18.3%, respectively, vs 0.4% and 6.0% for the two publicly traded peers that don't feature notable Union ownership (i.e., CNA Financial and AmeriServ).

It's not surprising today's bank tellers are expressing interest in organized labor. 

Frankly, many tellers are being financially exploited — and at the expense of taxpayers.

The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates as much as 35% of America's bank tellers are making less than $15/hour.
According to a recent Axios article about labor organization efforts at Wells Fargo, as many as one in three bank tellers relies on some form of government assistance.” 

Bank profits are high enough that banks can afford to pay their workers a living wage, and societally, we should be expecting, encouraging, and if needed, requiring, them to do so.

There's no need and no excuse for US banking to be operating as a government-subsidized industry.

There's a case to be made for encouraging Teller Ownership in our banks.

Financial stewardship and fiduciary thinking are mindsets crucial to the DNA of a strong banking system. A bank that doesn't care about the financial well-being of all its stakeholders isn't a world class bank.

There's literally no bank in the nation that can't afford to gift some shares to every employee, getting them truly vested in the bank's performance.


Amalgamated Financial Corp, New York, NY (AMAL)

Unionized Banking at its Best

Posting the January 2024 Timyan Bank Alert™ Review of AmeriServ Financial got me looking into unionized banks as a class. 

The Big Aha for me? There's both room and reason for Unionized Banking in America, and it can be done well. 

Unionized banks are a rarity in the US –– it takes a special banker to even know what to do with them, and those bankers are even more rare than the banks in this niche. 
Although there were 50 or so before the Great Depression, only six of 4,458 community banks left in the US today are unionized. Among them, Amalgamated is the top performer, and it owes its success to the good fortune of having been led by a non-traditional banker — Keith Mestrich.

Were AmeriServ or any other of the country’s unionized banks to engage Mestrich in any capacity, I would Follow The Leader and seriously consider buying shares in that entity.

Disclosure: As of this posting, I do not own any shares of AMAL.

Prospective Buyers

As attractive as the Amalgamated franchise is from a fundamentals standpoint, I don't see any acquisitive bankers in the area who'd be open to moving into unionized banking.

Financial Snapshot
as of 12/31/2023

Total assets:$8B
Tangible book value per share:   $18.74
NPAs to assets:0.4%
Price to book:125%
Market cap:$730M
Dividend yield:1.7%
Trailing 12-month ROA:1.15%
Trailing 12-month ROE:17.1%


Keith Mestrich, Former CEO
Lynne P. Fox, Chair
Priscilla Sims Brown, President and CEO

Gold Stars

Most of the Gold Stars that apply to Amalgamated now are attributable to Keith Mestrich, whom the bank hired in 2012. (Amalgamated had lost money in 4 of the prior 5 years.)

Despite being a newbie in the field, Mestrich managed the fundamentals of “normal” banking expertly, by:
  • Closing most of Amalgamated's 32 unprofitable consumer branches in New York,
  • Hiring talented bankers,
  • Bringing in needed low-cost deposit customers,
  • Cleaning up poor credit, and 
  • Introducing efficiencies in every corner of the bank.
Mestrich even grew Amalgamated's value via effective acquisition by:
  • Leading Amalgamated's purchase of the underperforming New Resource Bank in San Francisco, and turned it around, too. 
If you bought NWBN shares when the February 2014 Timyan Bank Alert™ Review of New Resource Bank and/or NRBC shares after our February 2017 Updated Review of New Resource Bank were posted, you have Mestrich to thank for the 281% and/or 194% bumps in value of those shares to what they're worth now in AMAL stock.

Even more impressive to me are the ways Mestrich brought unique value to the Amalgamated franchise and community by:
  • Embracing unions and unionization instead of fighting them; 
  • Building on the bank’s history serving diverse populations, including immigrants; and, 
  • Inventing profitable products and services for the union marketplace. 
In my perfect world, Amalgamated would scale the Mestrich game! 

Roll up some other unionized banks, bring Amalgamated's innovative products and superior service to their uniquely shared markets, and ring out their inefficiencies.