Shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. Department of Labor removed a webpage allowing Wells Fargo employees to review their rights under the law and report any potential labor violations. On Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to the acting Secretary of Labor questioning the removal of the page when new allegations of malfeasance continue to emerge along with reports indicating that Trump transition officials attempted to interfere in a federal investigation into Wells Fargo.
“On January 24, 2017, I observed that www.dol.gov/wellsfargo, the website that the Department created to aid all Wells Fargo employees in reporting any potential labor violations, filing complaints, and obtaining resources about their rights under the law, had been taken down,” Sen. Warren wrote in a letter to Acting Secretary Edward Hugler. “The webpage, which was up and running as of January 20, 2017, remains down as of the time of writing, giving users a ‘Page Not Found’ error. This action was taken despite (1) several new allegations regarding Wells Fargo employees who were retaliated against for attempting to report or stop illegal activities on the job, (2) allegations involving employees who were asked to work through the night to shred evidence of maleficence in advance of internal risk inspections, and (3) reports that, in late 2016, ‘an attorney representing Wells Fargo tried to hamper an investigation into the bank’s treatment of employees and in doing so cited a possible role in the coming Trump administration.’”
In April 2016, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $1.2 billion settlement for improper mortgage lending practices and failing to disclose thousands of faulty mortgage loans to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In September 2016, the bank was slapped with $185 million in fines after creating 1.5 million bank accounts and applying for 565,000 credit cards that their customers did not authorize.
“I first wrote to the Department of Labor on September 22, 2016, shortly after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo for opening 1.5 million unauthorized deposit accounts,” Warren continued. “The CFPB’s agreement cited a sales culture at Wells Fargo characterized by stringent quotas and in the wake of the scandal current and former employees came forward in droves to describe threats of termination, mandated unpaid overtime, and other forms of retaliation that they experienced when these quotas weren’t met. Given these first-hand accounts, academic reports describing similar incidences at Wells Fargo and across the industry, and a number of legal cases citing wage and hour violations at Wells Fargo, I, along with seven of my Senate colleagues, asked the Department of Labor to open a formal investigation to ensure that all current and former employees were fully paid for every hour they worked.”
In her letter, Warren cited three recent articles from ProPublica, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN that reported on multiple incidents of Wells Fargo employees committing labor violations. Besides allegedly receiving instructions to continue improperly charging their clients, Wells Fargo employees were reportedly ordered to destroy any possible evidence of fraudulent activity before inspections and were terminated for reporting phony account practices to the ethics line at Wells Fargo.
“In addition, on January 6th, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that your Department’s ongoing wage and hour investigation into labor violations at Wells Fargo was being hampered by Tammy McCutchen, an attorney representing Wells Fargo with possible ties to President Trump’s transition team,” Warren elaborated. “Ms. McCutchen, who is rumored to be a potential high-ranking DOL appointee, ‘tried to block an agency investigator from accessing records or conducting interviews at a Wells Fargo facility’ in December 2016.”
In conclusion, Warren asked Hugler to reinstate the webpage for Wells Fargo whistleblowers, continue the ongoing investigation into the bank’s labor practices, investigate the additional reports that emerged this month, and notify Congress if McCutchen or any other officials have a conflict of interest with the Department of Labor. Hugler has not yet responded.