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Fired Wells Fargo Employees Allege Attempts To Blow The Whistle


In the fake account scandal that's engulfed Wells Fargo, the bank has basically said it fired the wrongdoers, the bad apples, and it's doing right by its customers. But some workers tell NPR they were the good apples. They were calling the company ethics line, trying to blow the whistle, but Wells Fargo fired them and not only that. They say the bank badly damaged their careers. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: If you want a window into just how bad some of the employees say the sales culture was at Wells Fargo, meet Ashley. She worked as a personal banker in branches in downtown San Francisco starting back in 2007. And one day, she says, a bank robber came in.

ASHLEY: Cops were swarming. They shut everything down. No public couldn't come in. You know, you're an employee. You're watching all this. I mean the guy jumped the counter. It was a crazy, big fiasco. They had the guy detained. Then he faked a heart attack.

ARNOLD: (Laughter) Oh, my God.

ASHLEY: It was, don't even look at it.

ARNOLD: Ashley says through all this, her district manager was walking up and down the lobby, telling employees to keep calling customers to sell credit cards and checking accounts.

ASHLEY: Don't think you're walking out or going home early even though we're closed for the rest of the day. Dial for dollars. Dial for dollars. It was a boiler room.

ARNOLD: Working at Wells Fargo, Ashley says managers pushed her to open eight new accounts, eight new products every single day. In January, they raised the goal to 20, called it Jump Into January.

ASHLEY: Make a hundred calls a day. Call. Call. Call. We were constantly on the phone. Dial. Dial. Dial.

ARNOLD: That's Ashley again. I spoke to her in several different conversations. NPR's been talking to other former Wells Fargo workers, too, who also just want to use their first names. They fear talking to a reporter could make it harder to find a good job. But it turns out something else has already been hurting their careers.

Wells Fargo fired Ashley after she says she told her managers that she couldn't ethically meet the sales goals. She also said she reported co-workers who cheated to meet the goals - for example, issuing credit cards to customers who never asked for them. She would call the bank's ethics line.

ASHLEY: Towards the end, I want to say I was calling about every other day either HR or ethics line.

ARNOLD: But since Ashley was fired, she's never been able to get another job with any other major bank. So we looked into that, and we found out that when a bank fires an employee like Ashley, they're required to report that on a national database on a form called a U5. It's like a report card for bankers. Ashley didn't realize this, but we tracked down the document. It says she was fired for, quote, "failure to perform job duties."

ASHLEY: When I saw that, it just made my heart sink to my stomach. Who's going to hire somebody who didn't do job duties and it's on their record? So it looks like I just didn't work. I didn't do anything.

ARNOLD: So when Wells Fargo fired Ashley, it put this stain on her record that's followed her ever since. She's been stuck in low-paying jobs for the past five years. She's making $12 an hour right now. And we've talked to several other former Wells Fargo workers who say they're in the same boat.

DAVID: I contacted the ethics hotline. I contacted the HR department.

ARNOLD: David worked in a Wells Fargo branch in Florida. He was fired by Wells Fargo last year, and the bank put a mark on his U5 record, too. The bank says he was dismissed for, quote, "accepting a credit card application knowing that it was not signed by the applicant but rather a relative on the applicant's behalf." David says his manager OKed that, and he believes that the real reason he was fired was that he pushed back against managers. He resisted the sales goals and reported co-workers who were breaking the rules.

DAVID: I could not get a job working in a bank anymore, so I had to declare bankruptcy because, you know, currently I'm working for minimum wage. And my career is over thanks to Wells Fargo.

ARNOLD: Wells Fargo tells NPR in a statement that it's, quote, "disturbing to hear claims of retaliation against team members who contacted the ethics line." The bank says it's investigating these claims. The bank also says it is assisting former employees to be rehired when possible. The former workers we talked to, though, say what they really want is to get this career-ending stain off their records. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.