Amalgamated Bank CEO Keith Mestrich has a message for the nation's top banking executives: Workers need a raise.
Amalgamated has became the first bank in the country to hike its workers pay -- including interns, mail room clerks and tellers -- to a minimum of $15 an hour. And Mestrich is calling on other bank CEOs to make the same move, saying if his bank can afford it, others can too.
"We are a profitable institution -- not as profitable as many, we didn't make $5 billion last quarter like Bank of America did. But we are a profitable industry, and most banks are doing well. If there is any industry that can join this call, it's the banking industry," Mestrich told CBS MoneyWatch.
Asked if he'd received any feedback from other bank heads, Mestrich quipped: "Nobody has called me to congratulate me on my courage."
Of the nearly half a million bank tellers nationwide, three in four earn less than $15 an hour, with the median hourly wage $12.44, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that focuses on labor issues.
Of course if there is any bank in the U.S. that would join the Fight for $15 campaign, Amalgamated would make sense. The New York City-based bank, with 420 employees, was founded 93 years ago by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Today it is the nation's largest union-owned lender, with a majority stake owned by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
"We continue to work with unions and offer strike loans to help unions afford the option of going on strike," Amalgamated states on its website.
An avowedly progressive institution, the company also describes itself as a "leading voice for the unbanked and under-banked" and a "proponent of responsible corporate practices."
Investors Wilbur Ross and Ron Burkle hold a minority stake in Amalgamated, after helping rescue it in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The bank has assets of $3.8 billion and operates a total of 17 branches in California, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.