A Bank For the People is Born
Founded in 1923 by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), Amalgamated Bank was New York City’s first labor bank. Until this time, banks were responsive almost exclusively to the needs of corporations and wealthy individuals. Sidney Hillman, the founder and President of the ACWA, believed that hardworking people and their families deserved access to affordable banking, and it was from this principle Amalgamated Bank was born.
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Working People Get the Respect They Deserve
Amalgamated Bank established headquarters at 15 Union Square in New York City. From its inception, the bank has demonstrated its commitment to the needs of working people. In 1924, it introduced the first unsecured personal loans for working families — with the main requirement being that a borrower have steady employment and earn enough to be able to repay the loan in modest installments. In time, virtually every bank in the nation adopted this innovation.
Another pivotal program the bank initiated was the first foreign-exchange transfer service. This allowed immigrants to safely send remittances to relatives in Europe, payable in dollars rather than in local currency. In 1927, the bank financed the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, the first union-supported housing development in the United States, which is located in the Bronx, New York. This pioneering effort proved successful and more and more units were added over the years. By 1947, the cooperative housed 700 moderate income families.
More Than A Bank – A Voice for the People
Amalgamated Bank’s commitment to being a voice for the people went beyond financial matters. In 1942, Adolph Held, President of the bank as well as chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee, joined a small delegation of American Jewish leaders and met with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to appeal for immediate action to combat the extermination of the Jews. Amalgamated later became the bank for the Special Labor Aid Project which supported elderly Jewish cultural figures in Poland and Israel.
Serving Ever-Growing Needs
By the 1950’s, the bank started to broaden its range of consumer and commercial banking services. In 1957, Amalgamated provided home loans to the cooperative shareholders in the Park Reservoir Housing Cooperative in the Bronx, New York, the first affordable housing development created under New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Housing Program. Over the years, Amalgamated has financed debt on the property and today the development serves thousands of families.
A Union-owned Bank Backs Unions
In the early 1960’s, Amalgamated took an important step forward by offering, for the first time, trust fund management services for unions. The 1970’s proved to be an active decade for Amalgamated. In 1973, Amalgamated offered the first totally free checking accounts in New York and launched the Trust and Investment Services Division to serve the needs of union-related pension and benefit funds. In January 1973, as a show of support and dedication to the causes of unions, bank employees worked all weekend to provide bail checks so that striking Philadelphia teachers could stay out of jail. In 1977, the Health Care Financial Services division was started to meet the specialized financial and banking needs of nursing homes and healthcare facilities.
As Japanese-made automobiles started to flood the U.S. market in 1980, Amalgamated stepped up with an offer to encourage consumers to buy American. We offered purchasers of domestic cars a half-percentage point discount on 24-to-36-month auto loans. In 1982, Amalgamated continued to rally in support of union causes by giving a $200,000 loan to the striking National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) — this was an especially unique and bold move as the NFLPA didn’t even have an account at the bank. In the 1980’s the bank also offered lines of credit to striking workers from Eastern Airlines and NYNEX.
Helping Maintain, Preserve and Improve Affordable Housing
Amalgamated’s Housing Loan program was started in 1992 as a way to provide a source of affordable financing to residential housing developments that serve moderate and middle-income residents. The program has been a great success and has provided over $300 million in unsecured loans for capital improvements.
Promoting Corporate Responsibility
Our activism in the interest of shareholders was concretely demonstrated in 1992 with the introduction of the LongView Equity Index Fund, which provides union pension funds with investment products and actively advocates for enhanced shareholder value. Since its inception, the Fund has:
Fought sweatshop abuses by urging companies to adopt and monitor codes of conduct
Advocated full public reporting of all corporate political contributions
Challenged outsized severance packages by demanding limits to golden parachutes
Pioneered shareholder resolutions requiring companies to have clawback policies in order to recover ill-gotten executive pay
Held large corporations accountable for accounting fraud
Moreover, in April of 2006, Amalgamated Bank proudly became one of the founding signatories of the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Investment. Click here to learn more about our corporate governance initiatives.
Expanding a Presence in Under-banked Neighborhoods
In 1998, with its continued growth and success, Amalgamated expanded its footprint beyond New York City and opened a full-service branch in Washington, D.C. Along with the new millennium came more branch presence as the bank opened a branch in California and increased the size of its branch network in New York City. In 2007, the bank moved into new corporate offices at 275 Seventh Avenue. Today, we are proud to be a leader in providing banking access to communities that have historically been underserved by the banking system: nearly one-third of our branches are located in areas designated by the New York State Department of Financial Services as Banking Development Districts (BDDs).
Standing Up For the 99%
Staying true to its ideals in support of the worker and standing up against greed and corruption, Amalgamated became a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement in September, 2011, and was “the bank for the movement.” In its continued quest to enhance shareholder value, Amalgamated filed a lawsuit against News Corporation’s board in 2013 and achieved the largest settlement of a derivative lawsuit for News Corporation's failed board oversight from its hacking scandal.
Amalgamated expanded into political banking in 2011 gaining as clients dynamic progressive organizations that share its ideals — clients like the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Governors’ Association, and Demos. In a show of support for the workers who were impacted by government shutdown in 2013, the bank acted immediately to set up a program that offered furloughed federal workers an opportunity to get quick credit.
A Proud Heritage of Addressing the Needs of Immigrants
For over 90 years, Amalgamated Bank has led the way in offering banking services tailored to immigrants in New York City. Recently, NYC officials announced IDNYC, a new municipal identification card available to all city residents. As one of the few New York banks accepting IDNYC as a primary form of identification to open a bank account, we are proud to continue our legacy of expanding banking access to immigrants and underserved communities.
Continuing Our Progressive Traditions Today and Tomorrow
Today, Amalgamated Bank is the largest majority union-owned bank in the United States. The bank’s corporate divisions include Consumer Banking, Business Development, Investment Management, and Commercial Lending. Amalgamated has retail branches across four boroughs of New York City as well as branches in California and Washington, D.C.
The bank continues to seek ways to expand on the foundation it has built over nearly a century – one of high-quality, affordable and accessible banking for all. Moreover, Amalgamated Bank is proud to be an advocate for the advancement of workers’ rights, offer products and services designed to support working families, and promote corporate responsibility through shareholder activism.