Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Workers Want a Raise

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is necessary to prevent predatory corporate behavior. Americans need it to be functional. Instead it’s embroiled in an internal labor conflict, with management stonewalling unionized workers demanding a raise.

Federal employees picket outside the office of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Rohit Chopra. (National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 335)

When building trades workers take action against anti-union contractors, the labor mascot Scabby the Rat often makes an appearance on their picket lines. But for the last week, Scabby has accompanied workers wielding ballpoint pens, not wrenches, as federal employees picket outside the office of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) director Rohit Chopra.

CFPB workers from Chapter 335 of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) have been embroiled in a protracted pay dispute with the agency that has forced them to work without a contract since December 31. The conflict centers around increasing “pay bands,” or salary ranges for workers at different ranks. NTEU is pushing for an increase, without which many lower-level workers would not be able to receive merit pay or bonuses. With the contract expired, CFPB employees are now the only federal workers who haven’t received a raise or local cost-of-living increase in 2024.

Making it all the worse is the fact that the agency recently increased pay bands for top-level managers, who account for only fifty-five of the agency’s nearly 1,700-strong workforce. Some of these managers now make up to $269,000 a year. In response, NTEU organized members to send sarcastic emails with the subject line “Congratulations on your raises!” to Chopra and other high-level agency officials.

The union’s pickets are an escalation from failed attempts to get Chopra to bargain in good faith. After he ignored a digital letter in January, NTEU drafted a revised letter with over five hundred signatures from CFPB workers and hand-delivered it to him at the CFPB Supervision Conference on March 6.

But Chopra and CFPB negotiators continued stonewalling the union and refused to meet. On March 27, NTEU national president Doreen Greenwald sent a letter to Chopra demanding that he return to the table with Chapter 335, threatening to “use every tool possible to achieve NTEU’s goal of respecting employees by providing a good compensation package for employees at the CFPB.”

The same week that letter was sent, CFPB workers launched daily pickets at the agency’s headquarters. Eventually, Chopra folded and held a meeting with NTEU reps on Thursday, April 4. At least rhetorically, he committed to pushing for a speedy resolution and having an offer for the union by the end of this week.

The union has used this opportunity to submit an updated proposal to the CFPB that includes raises at or above inflation in all three years of the agreement, annual pay band increases, a lump sum in back pay covering the delays in negotiations, and local cost-of-living adjustment increases for every year of the agreement.

The union has also established a $20,000 rainy day fund to cover union members’ financial needs. Within forty-eight hours, it received more requests than funds available, demonstrating how much members rely on their annual raises.

Created in 2011 as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB was a direct response to the Wild West deregulatory environment that caused the 2008 financial crash. CFPB workers are critical in protecting US consumers in areas like mortgages, credit cards, and student loans. The current attention surrounding the issue of student debt is largely the result of the CFPB’s consistent advocacy over the years. The agency is a necessary barrier to corporate opportunism and a great benefit to ordinary Americans — and it needs workers to function.

More recently, the agency began a rulemaking process to remove medical bills from credit reports. It put forward proposals to help families recover financially from medical crises, stop coercion from debt collectors, and ensure that creditors are not using inaccurate data. It’s no wonder that Democratic senator Dick Durbin told CNN, “Wall Street hates it [the CFPB] like the devil hates holy water.”

CFPB workers have endured a rocky road since the agency was established thirteen years ago. Just as the institution was getting established, the Trump administration brought a new wave of attacks. Mick Mulvaney, who called the agency a “sick joke,” was tapped to be its director. In line with Trump’s overall goal of defanging the regulatory state, Mulvaney also said, “I don’t like the fact that the CFPB exists, I will be perfectly honest with you.”

Under Mulvaney’s reign, a hiring freeze was instituted, and a budget increase wasn’t even requested. Significant lawsuits against financial predators were dropped, like one against four payday lenders in Kansas. Enforcement actions at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Wall Street’s top regulators, drastically declined.

The Trump administration directly attacked federal workers and their unions, including NTEU, through a series of executive orders. One order restricted the use of official union time while on the clock, which led to some federal unions getting evicted from their offices.

Things were supposed to be better under Rohit Chopra, who was somewhat of a progressive darling in wonky policy circles at the beginning of his tenure. Before becoming the agency’s director, he played a leading role in creating a complaint database for student loan borrowers and generally publicizing the issue. But as is too often the case, these progressive sentiments seemingly vanished when it came to the treatment of his own workers.

Trump was undoubtedly a disaster for federal workers, and President Joe Biden has hoped to make use of those painful memories to get across-the-board support from federal workers and their unions. Accordingly the Biden administration has overturned the worst of Trump’s executive orders, and recently signed a pay raise covering most federal employees. But CFPB workers are not covered by these raises, because they get funding from the Federal Reserve. President Biden, who is essentially Chopra’s boss, could play a direct role in the CFPB negotiations, but so far has not intervened.

NTEU, unlike its sister union the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), has not yet endorsed Biden. It’s betting that direct action and mobilizing its membership will be the key to securing gains no matter who is in office.