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You don’t often discuss bank foreclosures and tobacco laborers in the same sentence, yet alone in the same news conference.
Enter UAW President Bob King, who believes it’s time for JPMorgan Chase Bank to “step up and do the right thing” by halting foreclosures in Michigan and aiding farm workers in North Carolina.
In September, the UAW and several faith and labor leaders announced their intention to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars from the New York-based bank to protest Chase’s decision not to implement a two-year moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan, one of the nation’s hardest hit states in the economic crisis.
RJ Reynolds Corp., the tobacco giant that is financed by Chase, has refused to engage in negotiations with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) over low wages and unsafe working conditions at farms of contract growers in North Carolina.
“The UAW is in the process of moving money away from Chase to other banks,” said King in a Sept. 24 news conference at a Detroit church with other area labor and religious leaders.
“Chase needs to help unemployed homeowners in Michigan and underpaid farm workers in the Carolinas. The bank could make a huge difference by suspending foreclosures and asking RJ Reynolds to do the right thing,” King added.
King recently returned from a fact-finding tour of the North Carolina tobacco fields, calling the living quarters of farm workers “devastating” and Chase’s “moral responsibility to step up.”
In June, about 1,000 protesters rallied outside Chase’s main Detroit office seeking a hearing with the bank’s officers on both issues. Chase officials met with King and FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez, among others.
At an August follow-up meeting, campaign leaders called on Chase to join President Obama’s Hardest Hit Homeowners program and declare a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures.
Then on Oct. 4, Chase announced it would participate in Michigan’s Hardest Hit fund to help borrowers there who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits.
King said while the UAW is happy that Chase has taken this first step in halting foreclosures in several states, “We hope they go further.”
“We’re asking that Chase enact a two-year moratorium on home foreclosures. A moratorium would allow homeowners at risk of losing their homes to pay a reasonable rent in lieu of mortgage payments, giving the homeowner time to recover in this period of economic emergency,” he said.
Banks are expected to take over a record 1.2 million homes this year, up from about 1 million last year, according to real estate data company RealtyTrac Inc.
Nearly one in every four U.S. homes sold in the second quarter was a deeply discounted foreclosed house.
The states with the highest share of foreclosure sales from April to June were Nevada (56 percent), Arizona (47 percent) and California (43 percent).
At least one-quarter of all sales were foreclosed homes in Rhode Island (37 percent), Massachusetts (35 percent), Florida (34 percent), Michigan (33 percent) Georgia (27 percent), Idaho (27 percent) and Oregon (25 percent).
At press time, more than two-thirds of U.S. state attorneys general planned to launch a joint probe into foreclosure allegations. The state investigations stem from allegations that banks and companies that collect monthly mortgage payments used “robo-signers” – people who signed thousands of affidavits without properly reviewing them.
Several big banks in 23 states – including JPMorgan Chase – put a moratorium on foreclosures as they attempt to determine the depth and scope of the irregularities.
Bank of America, the largest U.S. mortgage servicer, went a step further and halted foreclosure sales in all 50 states.