Some Wells Fargo employees vote in favor of unionization; others reject


(Reuters) - Wells Fargo (WFC.N) employees at its Albuquerque, New Mexico branch voted to join a union on Wednesday, while some of the other bank employees at the bank's branch in Bethel, Alaska withdrew from the unionization effort.

Elections at the Alaska branch were going to be held on Thursday but they have now been withdrawn, the union said.

Details of the Alaska branch pulling out their petition were first reported on Wednesday by Reuters.

"We are pleased with this development and will continue to respect the rights of our employees to choose whether or not they want to be represented by a union," said Amy Bonitatibus, Wells Fargo's chief communications officer.

The Committee For Better Bankers is helping with the bank unionization effort or the branch employees did not immediately provide any rationale for the move.

"Although those of us at the Bethel branch have decided to withdraw our petition and hold on moving forward with a union election at this time, our values have not changed," Walker Sexton, a personal banker at the Bethel branch, said without elaborating.

"We believe change at Wells Fargo is past due," Sexton said.

With the unionization effort at the Albuquerque branch, Wells Fargo has become the first major U.S. lender to have a unionized workforce.

The employees at that branch voted 5 to 3 in favor of joining the Communications Workers of America's Wells Fargo Workers United (WFWU), the union said.

The vote stands "as a testament to workers in the financial services industry who know we need a collective voice to improve the industry we are integral to," said Sabrina Perez, a senior premier banker at Wells Fargo's Albuquerque branch.

The vote makes the San Francisco-based lender the first big U.S. bank with a union, marking a rare win for such efforts in an industry that has largely been immune to them.

"We respect our employees' rights to vote for union representation. At the same time, we continue to believe our employees are best served by working directly with the company and its leadership," Wells Fargo said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Recent unionization campaigns have led to tense showdowns between employees and corporate behemoths. Lucrative deals clinched by unions such as the United Auto Workers, which secured record pay hikes for employees, have bolstered support for unionization.

In the lead-up to the vote, the bank had highlighted several measures it had taken to address some of the concerns raised by its employees, such as improving compensation and benefits for lower-paid workers and bumping up median base salaries.

But at a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this month, CEO Charlie Scharf, when asked if the bank would remain neutral during the unionization effort, said Wells Fargo would exercise its right "to speak with (the employees) to make sure they make an informed decision".

Employees at the Daytona Beach, Florida branch and Atwater, California have also filed for union elections which are expected to be held in January, two sources said.

The result of the Albuquerque branch vote was first reported by Bloomberg News.

Uber Technologies (UBER.N) will raise the minimum wage it pays drivers in France as part of a wider agreement between ride-hailing companies and driver representatives in the country, the company said on Wednesday.

Drivers will earn a minimum income of 9 euros ($9.85) per trip, up from the 7.65 euros they were earning previously, and will have a guaranteed income of 30 euros per hour and 1 euro per kilometer.

The changes in hourly income guarantee and minimum wage per kilometer will be implemented by May next year, while the wage increase in revenue per trip will be in effect from February.

Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday that ride-hailing apps Bolt and Free Now have also similarly raised their minimum wage.

Earlier this month, the European Union provisionally agreed on a bill aimed at giving employee benefits to workers at app-based platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo (ROO.L).

App-based delivery workers are usually treated as independent contractors rather than company employees, which means general minimum wage laws do not apply to them.

The proposed bill on 'gig workers' rights, which has to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, will prevent workers from being wrongfully classified as self-employed, which results in them "missing out on important labour and social protection rights," the European Parliament had said.

"The package of guarantees on which we have just agreed proves the strength of sectoral social dialogue in France," said Yves Weisselberger, president of FFTPR, which represents ride-hailing platforms.

A New York state appeals court had earlier this month upheld the minimum wage law for app-based delivery workers in New York City, which would require companies to pay them $17.96 an hour, rising to nearly $20 in April 2025.

Pilots at Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) will get about a 50% pay raise over a five-year period in their new contract, according to the details shared by their union on Wednesday.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), which represents more than 10,000 pilots at the Dallas-based carrier, also said its board has voted to send the deal to members for a ratification vote.

"The board believes this agreement achieves the goals of the pilot group, provides security for their families, and rewards their industry-leading productivity," the union said.

On Tuesday, the union said it has reached an agreement with the company for a $12-billion contract deal.

The hefty pay increases underscore the bargaining power aviators are enjoying amid an industry-wide shortage. Pilots at rivals United Airlines (UAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), and American Airlines (AAL.O) have all secured big raises and improvements in working conditions in new contracts.

It has not only driven up operating costs at airlines but also encouraged other work groups to demand similar gains in their contracts.

Southwest pilots will get a 29.15% pay raise immediately after the new contract's ratification and a hike of 4% each in 2025, 2026, and 2027. The agreement provides for a 3.25% gain in wages in 2028.

After the contract ends in December 2028, they will get a 2.5% bonus each year until a new agreement is reached, the union said.

The deal also provides pay protection for pilots who can't fly due to fatigue.

Pilots will vote on the tentative agreement until Jan. 22, it said.

Danish dockworkers and lorry drivers have stopped unloading and transporting Tesla (TSLA.O) cars destined for Sweden as Danish labor union 3F on Wednesday joined Swedish mechanics in their strike action against Tesla.

Tesla is facing a backlash from unions and some pension funds in the Nordic region as the U.S. carmaker refuses to accept a demand from Swedish mechanics for collective bargaining rights covering wages and other conditions.

"We can't allow one man or one company to come and say, I want to do this in another way, you need to change your system. If you want to be here, you're very welcome, but you have to follow the rules," said Jan Villadsen, chairman of 3F Transport.

3F announced the sympathy action on Dec. 5, addressing speculation that Tesla had started shipping cars to Sweden through Danish ports following Swedish dockworkers joining the dispute.

"We know that some cars have come through Denmark, we don't know how many but some, we know also that from today there is not one coming," Villadsen said.

Villadsen thinks the conflict with the Nordic unions will last until an agreement is reached with Tesla, he told Reuters, adding:

"I've been in this game for more than 25 years, and I've never seen a strike that didn’t end with an agreement. All strikes end with an agreement".

The sympathy action will only affect Tesla cars meant for Sweden. The transport of Tesla cars for Danish customers will remain unaffected, Villadsen told Reuters.

Dansk Metal, a union representing mechanics in Denmark, has not joined the sympathy action but told Reuters that they are coordinating with unions in other countries and are in talks with Tesla and mechanics working for Tesla in Denmark.

"We will not say 100% that we are going to strike, because right now, we are in the process of gathering international forces, and that is what we believe is the strongest tool for us," René Nielsen, Vice Chairman at Dansk Metal said.

Dansk Metal is especially working towards getting unions in Germany to join, Nielsen said. Tesla has 11,000 workers in Gruenheide, near Berlin.

Italy's UniCredit (CRDI.MI) has agreed with Italian unions to offer a voluntary early retirement scheme to 510 employees, the departures partly offset by 255 new hires, the First Cisl banking union said on Wednesday.

Last year, UniCredit signed an accord with unions and booked 239 million euros ($262 million) in charges to fund voluntary exits to be replaced by younger hires, with cost-cutting and staff renewal a key plank of Chief Executive Andrea Orcel's strategy.

Italy's second-biggest bank had planned to cut around 800 jobs, a figure it then raised to 925, but it was unable to meet a further 1,000 requests from staff wanting to leave, a source had said earlier this year.

In Italy, banks lay off staff through a voluntary scheme funded by individual lenders, which allows employees to retire early and receive up to 80-90% of their salary until they qualify for a state pension.

A spokesman for UniCredit confirmed the agreement.

In the case of UniCredit, the early retirement scheme is open to staff who would reach pension age before 2030.

Under the agreement, UniCredit is open to accepting up to a further 200 requests from employees wishing to leave the bank and committed to an additional 169 hires as part of the organic turnover of employees with apprenticeship contracts.

UniCredit had 33,212 employees in Italy as of Sept. 30.

Argentine libertarian President Javier Milei on Wednesday signed a decree outlining economic reforms including an end to limits on exports plus measures to loosen regulations, as his new government combats a severe economic crisis.

"This is only the first step," Milei said in a televised address.

"The objective is to return freedom and autonomy to individuals and start dismantling the enormous amount of regulations that have impeded, hindered, and stopped economic growth," he said.

Among the reforms are plans to privatize state-owned companies, but Milei did not name specific firms.

In the past, Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, has said he favors the privatization of state-owned oil company YPF (YPFD.BA).

Since his inauguration on Dec. 10, Milei has pledged "shock" therapy for the economy including deep spending cuts in a bid to tame triple-digit inflation.

The former TV pundit rode a wave of popular anger to victory, campaigning on a promise to reverse the prolonged economic slump and blaming corrupt elites for the country's ills.

His government, which has devalued the local peso currency by over 50%, has said it plans to hike taxes for Argentina's grains exports - a key source of global supply for processed soybeans, corn, and wheat.

The push for higher taxes intended to raise revenue so that other levies can be lowered was met last week with surprise and criticisms from farm groups that predicted the measure would hurt the industry.

Grain exports are also a crucial source of foreign currency reserves for the central bank, needed to finance imports and pay down debts.

Earlier on Wednesday, thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, the capital, to protest the government's austerity plans, led by representatives for the unemployed demanding more support for the poor.

Argentina's poverty rate soared past 40% in the first half of this year.

Toyota Motor (7203.T) said on Wednesday it will recall 1.12 million vehicles worldwide because a short circuit in a sensor could cause airbags not to deploy as designed.

The recall covers 2020 through 2022 model year vehicles including various Avalon, Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Lexus ES250, ES300H, ES350, RX350 Highlander, and Sienna Hybrid vehicles, and could result in the Occupant Classification System (OCS) sensors not working. It includes 1 million vehicles in the United States.

The sensors ensure airbags do not deploy if a small adult or child is sitting in the front seat. Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the sensors. The automaker plans to begin notifying owners in February about the recall.

Toyota in July 2022 issued a recall for 3,500 RAV4 vehicles in the United States because of potential interference between internal parts that could cause the OCS sensor to incorrectly detect the occupant.

Frontal airbags have saved more than 50,000 lives in the United States over 30 years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.

The new sensors were prompted because older airbags deployed the same way for all drivers and passengers, causing some injuries and in rare cases even death to children, small adults, and unbelted passengers who were too close to the airbag as it deployed, the agency says.

 U.S. stocks closed lower on Wednesday after an abrupt mid-afternoon nosedive ended Wall Street's impressive rally, which had been driven by falling interest rates and the Federal Reserve's dovish turn.

All three major U.S. stock indexes veered lower late in the session to end 1.3% to 1.5% below Tuesday's close.

Stocks were "near all-time highs, they hit resistance," said Jay Hatfield, portfolio manager at InfraCap in New York, noting the downturn was "surprisingly vociferous, things went from hot to cold real fast."

"It’s surprising how aggressive the sell-off is, but it makes sense considering how far we’ve come," Hatfield added.

FedEx (FDX.N) shares tumbled 12.1% after the package delivery company missed quarterly profit estimates and cut its full-year revenue forecast as it battles United Parcel Service (UPS.N) in what is shaping up to be a weak holiday season. UPS dropped 2.9%.

Some traders said the market selloff could have been aggravated by large purchases of near-term put options on the S&P 500, including put contracts that would guard against a drop below the 4,755 level on the index by the end of the session.

Put options convey the right to sell shares at a fixed price in the future and at times options-linked hedging activity can heighten volatility.

In extended trade, Micron Technology (MU.O) jumped 4.4% after the memory chipmaker forecast quarterly revenue above estimates.

During the session, the S&P 500 got within 0.5% of its all-time closing high. Reaching a new closing high would have confirmed the benchmark index had been in a bull market since closing at the bear market floor in October 2022.

The index is now more than 2.0% below its record closing high.

Reuters Graphics
Reuters Graphics

"We've had this aggressive rally in December and investor sentiment is high, it went from bearish to bullish in almost record time," said Thomas Martin, Senior Portfolio Manager at GLOBALT in Atlanta. "So the markets are asking 'now what?'"

Last week, the Federal Reserve signaled it had reached the end of its tightening cycle and opened the door to rate cuts in 2024.

Chicago Fed President Austan Goolsbee late Tuesday reiterated that the rate at which inflation cools to the Fed's annual 2% target will drive policy on rate reduction.

Financial markets were pricing in a 71.1% likelihood of that first cut arriving as soon as March, according to CME's FedWatch tool.

On the economic front, than bigger-than-expected jump in U.S. consumer confidence and a surprise increase in existing home sales helped turn the major indexes green.

The Commerce Department is expected to wrap up the week with its third and final take on third-quarter GDP on Thursday, to be followed on Friday by its wide-ranging Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) report, which will cover income growth, consumer spending and, crucially, inflation.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) fell 475.92 points, or 1.27%, to 37,082, the S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 70.02 points, or 1.47%, to 4,698.35 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dropped 225.28 points, or 1.5%, to 14,777.94.

All 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 closed in the red, with consumer staples (.SPLRCS) suffering the steepest percentage decline after packaged food company General Mills (GIS.N) cut its sales forecast.

Alphabet gained 1.2% after the company announced it was restructuring Google's ad sales unit.

Management consulting firm Aon (AON.N) tumbled 6.0% following its announcement that it would buy privately held insurance broker NFP in a $13.4 billion deal.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.64-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.26-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 36 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 210 new highs and 89 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 12.84 billion shares, compared with the 12.15 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

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