Members of SEIU Local 503 picketed March 18 to denounce U.S. Bank for charging ATM fees to unemployed workers and single parents. The State of Oregon contracts with U.S. Bank to make unemployment benefits and court-ordered child support payments available via a re-loadable VISA debit card known as the Reliacard. Last year over $1 billion was deposited into U.S. Bank through the program, for the benefit of 350,000 recipients. U.S. Bank gets to use the funds until recipients withdraw them. What drew the union’s protest was that U.S. Bank charges Reliacard holders $1.50 per transaction to withdraw money from ATMs — even its own ATMs — after the first several transactions.
The state’s contract with U.S. Bank, set to expire Dec. 31, is up for renegotiation. The state treasurer’s office, which negotiates the contract, announced Nov. 29 that U.S. Bank has agreed to offer Reliacard users free and unlimited withdrawals from US Bank-branded ATMs, AND from bank branch teller windows. Of the 40 states that use pre-paid benefit cards, 18 have unlimited free in-network ATM withdrawals, according to a report released in May by the National Consumer Law Center.
Wheeler’s announcement credited two staffpeople for negotiating the new terms, but made no mention of SEIU or its campaign. The press announcement quoted U.S. Bank official Malia Wasson however, who said that U.S. Bank “continues to be an advocate for a stronger community.”
SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Heather Conroy made her own statement. “Our members are proud to have brought this matter to light,” Conroy said. Local 503 represents state employees, and it was members who work at the Oregon Employment Department who brought the abusive ATM fees to the union’s attention. Local 503 is gratified that Wheeler stood up for the unemployed, Conroy said, adding that every state contract ought to be carefully and publicly scrutinized.
SEIU has been targeting the big Wall Street banks nationwide in a campaign to hold them responsible for the financial crisis.