Human Rights Day: Workers Ask What’s Gone Wrong at Chase?

James Park


Photo credit: Ron Carver  
  Protestors braved the cold to hand out fliers at JPMorgan Chase headquarters in New York City.  

Today is International Human Rights Day and hundreds of union members, religious leaders, activists, farm workers and victims of bank home foreclosures are protesting at 100 JPMorgan Chase Bank branches across the country to demand the bank respect the basic human rights of people to have decent places to live and work.

Large banks such as Chase are flush with cash [1] and protestors handed out fliers asking, “What’s Gone Wrong at Chase?” and demanded the bank declare a one-year moratorium on home foreclosures. The  Wall Street Journal reports that Chase has $19.5 billion worth of home loans in foreclosure, more than any other bank.

“Chase is the home foreclosure Prince of Darkness,” said the Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman of Detroit’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. 

They are throwing hundreds of thousands of American families out into the cold. This must stop.

The protestors also are calling on Chase to use its influence as the lead banker for Reynolds American to facilitate talks that could lead to improved conditions in America’s tobacco fields and farm labor camps. 

Today in New York City, activists Ron Carver, along with Brendan Griffith and Sean Mackell from the New York City Central Labor Council [2], and Operating Engineers (IUOE [3]) Local 30 members Kirk Kelly and Ralph Fernandez (in photo above) distributed informational leaflets outside Chase’s corporate headquarters.

Apparently it doesn’t take much to rattle Chase’s cage. Before these union activists handed out a single leaflet, at least a dozen Chase security guards were outside of the building trying to discourage them from letting the public know the truth about Chase. But the five activists persevered and passed out the fliers to customers and passers-by. 

In September, UAW [4] President Bob King and several faith leaders announced they would withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars [5] from JPMorgan Chase over its refusal to declare a moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan and its continuing ties with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co [6]. Executives of the nation’s second-largest tobacco company continue to refuse to meet with workers to discuss the conditions of thousands of tobacco farm employees in North Carolina and other states who harvest the tobacco Reynolds uses to make its products. JPMorgan Chase is one of the lead banks in a consortium of lenders that provides $498 million in credit to Reynold’s parent, Reynolds American.

Today, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF [7]) named R.J. Reynolds as one of the worst companies of 2010 [8]in the world for the freedom of association.

“With my own eyes, I witnessed the squalid conditions farm workers are forced to live and work in,” King said. 

Chase Bank has an opportunity and a social responsibility to bring Reynolds Tobacco to the table to stop this human exploitation. Although neither Chase nor Reynolds directly employ farm workers, both are in a position to address conditions in the fields and labor camps.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC [9]), 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.

A new report released today by the Excluded Workers Congress [10] highlights ongoing efforts to dramatically expand the human rights of workers  to join a union and bargain collectively. The Excluded Workers Congress, which was formed at the U.S. Social Forum [11] this past summer, focuses on workers who have historically been excluded from labor protections,  such as domestic workers, farm workers, taxi drivers, day laborers, guest workers, workers in so-called right to work for less states, workfare workers and formerly incarcerated workers.

Says Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice [12]:

Expanding workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain in existing and new jobs is a key factor in guaranteeing a real economic recovery, then working families have the means to live a dignified life, the economy as a whole will benefit. 

For a full copy of the report, “Unity for Dignity,” click here [13].

In other International Human Rights Day activities, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to three American human rights defenders for their contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights both in the United States and abroad. This year’s winners are: Sarah Cleto Rial, the program director for My Sister’s Keeper; Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights [14]; and a posthumous award to Louis Henkin, chairman of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Colombia University and widely considered to be the father of modern human rights law.

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[1] flush with cash:

[2] New York City Central Labor Council:

[3] IUOE:

[4] UAW:

[5] withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars:

[6] R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co:

[7] ILRF:

[8] worst companies of 2010 :

[9] FLOC:

[10] Excluded Workers Congress:

[11] U.S. Social Forum:

[12] Jobs with Justice:

[13] here:

[14] The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: