Occupy Lincoln Takes on Union Bank


Occupy Lincoln Takes on Union Bank

In the March 2012 edition of Monthly Interest (Union Bank and Trust’s company newsletter that is sent out to all Union Bank employees) Angie Muhleisen, President and CEO of Union Bank, wrote a short article entitled “The 99%”.  In this article, she criticizes the Occupy Movement by using a poor analogy describing survival and success in our economy in terms of golf.  Her position is that the Occupy Movement’s mission of opposing income inequality and political corruption is akin to asking professional golfers to pay less-skilled amateurs a portion of their winnings.

Her analogy is faulty for several reasons.  The most obvious incongruity is the fact that the game of golf has very little in common with the survival and well-being of people in a capitalist economy.  In golf, all players start on a relatively even playing field.  Players can improve their game through practice – and even horrible golfers can still have fun playing.  No one has to go without healthcare or live with inadequate shelter and nutrition because they are not good at golf, nor do poor golfers suffer shorter life expectancies and higher rates of infant mortality, as people who subsist on poverty wages do.

In life, we do not start on an even playing field at all.  Some, like Mrs. Muhleisen, are born into a rich banking family and inherit the position of President and CEO of a local bank from their fathers, while others are born into poverty or other disadvantages.  No amount of practice or hard work guarantees success in this economy; in fact, those who work the hardest often earn much less than those who do little to no actual work.  Of course, this is not always the case, but it happens frequently enough to debunk the overly simplistic idea that success in our economy is based on merit and hard work alone.

Even if we were to assume that all the people occupying the top tier of our economy got there solely through merit and sheer hard work, how can anyone even begin to justify such outrageous salaries and bonuses?  Nearly one quarter of all American children live in poverty, a record 15% of all Americans live in poverty, and the wages of non-supervisory personnel are lower, in real terms, than they were in 19721 – yet CEOs in the US make 322 times more than their company’s average workers.2 Can we truly justify the unequal distribution of wealth (and resultant political power) in a country where the wealthiest 1% of citizens control almost 40% of all wealth and 63% of all business equity?3

Muhleisen’s article continues to degrade those who speak out against the horrible income disparity in our country by calling it “whining” in order to attract “media attention and sympathy from liberals” and that the people behind the movement “[are] kids…brought up in the era where everyone had to win a trophy regardless of how they performed.”  Expressing one’s opinion is fine, but distributing it through a company newsletter sent to subordinates is an outright abuse of power.  Imagine how recipients of this newsletter, who might very well hold a different opinion, felt when they found out their boss was attacking those who oppose poverty and inequality.  Are workers given the opportunity to use the company newsletter as a soapbox as well?  Would they be allowed to voice an opposing opinion and still keep their job?  What about the customers who entrust their money to her?  Does the Union Bank motto “You Belong Here” still apply to customers who sympathize with the goals of the Occupy Movement knowing that the CEO feels this way?  Muhleisen’s article is an insult to her employees, her customers and all working people.

More than anything, this article illustrates the arrogance of the 1%.  Many believe that all their wealth can be attributed to their superiority, with no consideration given to the rest of society whose collective hard work and enterprise made such financial success possible, and with no thought to the advantages they have in life that others lack.  According to the worldview of self-styled elites like Muhleisen, if you are not financially successful it is simply because you did not work as hard, and therefore you deserve your lot in life.

This article is not the first controversy surrounding Union Bank.  In 2006, a United States Department of Education audit found that Nelnet, a company owned by the same family that owns Union Bank, had been abusing a federal tax loophole since 1993 that allowed them to impose higher interest rates on specified loans.  By cheating tax laws, Nelnet gained $278 million from taxpayers and another $1.2 billion in profits.4 In addition, Nelnet was engaging in shady business practices by paying university alumni associations to steer loans their way.  By agreeing to pay $2 million into a fund to educate high school students about financing college – and by buying off local politicians – Nelnet was able to avoid further investigation into its business practices that could very well have led to additional fines and charges in this scandal. 5, 6

We encourage anyone who disagrees with this history of corruption and the sentiments espoused in Muhleisen’s article to move their money to a credit union.  Though they may not call Wall Street home, even local banks like Union Bank operate for profit.  Credit unions are not-for-profit and operate to serve their members and the community – not to the line the pockets of CEOs.

  1. Landy, Heather, Behind the Big Paydays, The Washington Post, November 15, 2008
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics, 2010
  3. 2011 National Public Radio interview with Dan Ariely, Duke University economist and author of a study on wealth distribution, April 16, 2011
  4. Lender Overcharged U.S. $1 Billion, Audit Finds; Inside Higher Ed; Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/10/02/nelnet
  5. http://higheredwatch.newamerica.net/blogs/education_policy/2007/08/nelnets_friend_benefits_0
  6. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/01/education/01loan.html?_r=2&ref=education&oref=slogin