On April 24th, in solidarity with the protests taking place at the Wells Fargo shareholder meeting in San Francisco, activists from Good Jobs Better Baltimore gathered outside a Wells Fargo in downtown Baltimore to hold the bank accountable for predatory lending, tax dodging, and job cutting.
Carrying signs and handing out leaflets, activists sought to let people know that Wells Fargo needs to become a better corporate citizen.
Customers are tired of being treated like a statistic. While Wells Fargo’s leadership worries about bonuses, dividends, and stock prices, its customers are worried about keeping their homes — or their jobs.
It is a serious situation that demands our attention. According to a recent blog post in the Huffington Post, once again banks are getting “too big to fail.” Banks are also pushing back on regulations that are meant to keep us from falling back into the financial abyss. Unfortunately, they are winning. We have not learned anything from the past several years. It’s the lack of regulation that helped doom AIG and Lehman Brothers. These are not good trends, which makes it all the more important for people to speak out against these policies.
On March 22nd, local residents and activists from Good Jobs Better Baltimore, 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, Occupy Baltimore, and Occupy Our Homes arrived with a moving van, foreclosure signs, caution tape, and a “sheriff” from Good Jobs Better Baltimore to “evict” the bank. We held this event to highlight the negative effects Wells Fargo has had in Baltimore and nationwide as a corporate tax dodger and a bad actor in the foreclosure crisis.
According to a recent Citizens for Tax Justice report, “Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Tax Dodgers, 2008 – 10”, Wells Fargo was one of 249 corporations that paid less than their fair share in federal corporate income taxes in 2010. In fact, the bank did not pay anything in taxes, yet received a $17.9 billion tax subsidy between 2008 and 2010, money that could have gone towards job creation, health care or education.
Wells Fargo was also one of the worst actors in the housing market collapse, issuing subprime loans in Baltimore at a rate 2nd only to Countrywide from 2005 to 2009. While the bank chooses to characterize their shady lending practices as the rogue actions of a few low level employees, a report issued this March by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that managers at Wells Fargo and other big banks were aware of problems and “did nothing to correct them”, and that the banks “violated state laws governing the foreclosure process.” Wells Fargo is cited specifically throughout the report.
Last Friday, Good Jobs Better Baltimore and other activists staged a surprise “celebration” to commemorate Wells Fargo’s 160th birthday at a downtown bank branch.
Inside the bank, activists released balloons with messages like “Wells Fargo: Pay your fair share in taxes,” and “Wells Fargo: Received tax subsidy of $17.9 billion.” Outside, individuals dressed as big money bankers with fake money bulging from their briefcases greeted passersby and handed out special “thank you” cards to Baltimore residents. The cards thank Baltimore for “sitting by while we did not pay our fair share in taxes,” and “allowing us to celebrate in style.”
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Last week, Baltimore metro area residents — angered by the policies of big banks like Wells Fargo — held a mock funeral for the American Dream in West Baltimore. Attended by more than 75 people, activists first gathered at the John Wesley United Methodist Church to listen as speakers told of disheartening foreclosure battles with banks; shady evictions; and crumbling communities. Speakers also encouraged people to move their money to a local credit unions.
After listening to these speeches, participants walked in a mock funeral procession to a Wells Fargo branch — led by pallbearers, mock caskets, and a trumpeter. Once they reached the bank, those in the procession tossed roses into the mock caskets. All this happened to the tune of a man playing taps on the trumpet.
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– In Baltimore, frustration grows over the struggling housing market. For families facing foreclosure, that frustration is aimed right at the big banks.
Kai Jackson explains how the people are making their voices heard.
These protesters are part of MoveOn and Occupy organizations. They are frustrated with the economic conditions that have led to people losing their homes and wiped-out savings, and they’re vowing to fight the problem.
They call it the funeral for the American dream at a church in West Baltimore.
“This is the kickoff of a long campaign where we’re gonna be encouraging people to rethink the role that big banks play in their lives,” said Kristerfer Burnett, of the community group Good Jobs, Better Baltimore.
The group says mortgages, checking accounts and investments, to name a few, should all be picked carefully by consumers.
“If we have bank accounts in any of these corporate, big Wall Street banks, we need to move our money,” Mary Hill, an organizer with MoveOn.org, said.
Protesters point to the rate of foreclosures as shameful.
“We’re fighting like hell for the living in our communities and that’s what we’ll do today,” David Carl Olson, of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, said.
And they blame the banking industry.
In 2010, “The Baltimore Sun” reported the rate of foreclosures for the city wasn’t the highest in America, yet the rate was far from the lowest.
“These are families, these are children that are impacted,” Burnett said. “These are your grandparents, aunts, uncles. This is everybody.”
“They’re heartless and they’re deceptive and they’re causing a lot of misery in the American family. And they need to look at their policies and look at the families they’re destroying and the families they’re putting on the streets,” Laverne Myrie said.
Good Jobs, Better Baltimore helped organize the event.
Thursday night’s protest took place at John Wesley United Methodist Church.
This Saturday, September 17th, all Wachovia signs will make the symbolic transformation into Wells Fargo signs. You may ask yourself, why should I care about this, after all, a bank is a just bank. Wrong.
Wells Fargo is not just any bank. Wells Fargo has a special relationship with Baltimore, and it’s not pretty.
Several years ago, the city of Baltimore filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending practices and “reverse redlining.” However, Baltimore is not alone. Memphis has also filed a lawsuit, and the Federal government is investigating Wells Fargo for improper actions.
The housing crisis has been particularly devastating to Baltimore. Abandoned houses on many corners foster a sense of hopelessness and despair. While Wells Fargo is not the only bad actor in this equation, they did play a prominent roll in promoting bad loans, especially to minorities in Baltimore.
Legal documents are difficult to read. Racial slurs, systematic deception on loans, and discrimination are just some of the things former employees discuss in these documents.
Now Wells Fargo wants to waltz into the city like nothing has happened. We offer 10 reasons why Baltimore should not roll out the welcome wagon for Wells Fargo.
To read the full document with citations, click here:
1. Racist lending practices: According to legal documents, Wells Fargo loan officers referred to African-American customers as “mud people,” and to the subprime loans they sold them as “ghetto loans.”
2. Discrimination: Wells Fargo offered subprime loans to 47% of African-American borrowers compared to just 10% of white borrowers.
3. High interest loans: Wells Fargo may bring a new type of payday loan to Maryland. When calculated annually, these direct deposit loans carry as much as a 365% interest rate.
4. Say goodbye to free checking: While local banks like M&T and PNC still have free checking with no minimum balance, Wells Fargo may penalize customers for lower balances.
5. High profile lawsuits and investigations: While the United States Department of Justice is investigating Wells Fargo, the city of Memphis and the city of Baltimore have filed lawsuits against the bank for discriminatory lending practices.
6. They are like Countrywide: Wells Fargo offered subprime loans at a rate of 26%. This is almost the same rate as notorious Countrywide — the poster child for the housing market collapse. From 2005 through 2009, Countrywide’s subprime lending rate was 31%.
7. Taking advantage of under-served communities: Wells Fargo saw Baltimore as an easy target for discriminatory lending. Minorities in the city — typically denied access to credit and subjected to years of racially segregated living patterns — were susceptible to predatory lending.
8. Predatory lending: In a 2004 report, the Center for Responsible Lending found that Wells Fargo charged excessive fees and interest rates regardless of credit history; tricked borrowers into adjustable rate loans; and convinced people to refinance loans at rates beneficial to Wells Fargo.
9. Vacant properties drain resources: A report released in June 2009 estimated that the annual cost per block for police and fire services increased $1,472 for every vacant property on that block. Baltimore has nearly 30,000 abandoned properties — 16,000 structures and 14,000 lots.
10. Risky student loans: Wells Fargo is one of few banks in the United States to offer fixed-rate private student loans. These loans can be more expensive than federal student loans and interests rate vary — 7.75% to 14.25% — depending upon credit history. And unlike federal loans, deferments are given at the sole discretion of the bank.