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Working Folk With City IDs Can Bank Amalgamated

January 21, 2015
By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—As soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new municipal identification cards for mostly undocumented immigrants, Amalgamated Bank was one of three banks to accept the new ID cards as proof of legitimate documentation so that immigrant workers could more easily bank.

Amalgamated Bank was New York’s first labor bank, and has a long history of providing numerous financial products to help working people apply for auto and home loans since Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, founded it in 1923.  

In the accompanying video, we interviewed Amalgamated Bank’s president, Keith Mestrich, on Wednesday at the bank’s corporate offices about why the bank agreed to accept the new ID cards that may go to as many as 500,000 people in the city. According to Mestrich, the new ID cards will be available not only for undocumented workers, but for anyone who needs an ID card such as people who don’t possess a driver’s license.

“The reality is that our bank was founded by immigrant workers. We’ve always paid a lot of attention to making sure that all New Yorkers could get basic banking services. We think that this ID card is one way of de-stigmatizing a lot of the kinds of things that went without having an ID card, and we’re very proud to be able to take it as part of the documentation package that people need to be able to open a bank account,” said Mestrich.

He noted that the new IDs would alleviate a lot of the frustrations people experience when they don’t have access to a basic banking account.

“Not having a bank account is really a miserable experience. It means you can’t pay your bills online. When you have to pay Con Ed, you have to go down to Con Ed or some other place to pay your bill [where] you are subject to a check cashier who’s going to charge you a lot of fees. It’s really awful not having a bank account. This card is a way for people to open a bank account,” Mestrich said.

He also noted that anyone who gets the new ID card could visit any one of Amalgamated’s 18 branches in the city.

“In addition, they’ll soon be able to open an account online. Even though we have only 18 branches in the city, our banking services are really full fledged—you can use your mobile app and we have 40,000 free ATMs across the country where people can access their accounts and be able to get cash when they need it.”

With a potential new customer base of 500,000 people who’ll need banking services, we asked if the bank would need to ramp up to meet the demand.

“We worked with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs to actually do training for our existing bank staff in order to be able to know how to work with the new ID as a way to open a new bank account. It’ll be a high quality problem if we are overwhelmed by tens of thousands of people who want to open bank accounts. But today, we are ready to go. Our staff is trained and knows how to take the ID card as a form of ID to open an account,” Mestrich said.

@marcbuss marc@laborpress.org

January 20, 2015

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