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New Yorkers demand the bank create good jobs or give the money back

New York, NY—Community and advocacy groups, Occupy Wall Street, and unemployed and underemployed activists gathered outside of Bank of America Merrill Lynch headquarters to demand the investment bank create jobs or return the public money it has received.

“Unemployed, underemployed and struggling New Yorkers have too often seen little benefit out of expensive corporate subsidy deals, while having to fight for every penny to fund essential public services,” said Nathalie Alegre, an organizer with ALIGN. “Today we say: another way of doing things is possible, another city is possible!”

With less than two months left in its subsidy agreement with the New York City Industrial Development Agency, Bank of America Merrill Lynch is far short of its job retention and creation commitment—by nearly 5,000 jobs. The company has been awarded $12.3 million in subsidies, and activists marched to the bank to demand the bank create the jobs or pay the money back.

With timing running out to create the economic opportunity they promised, activists decided to help out Bank of America Merrill Lynch by setting up a “hiring hall” outside of their headquarters office. They distributed job applications and had several activists and curious members of the public apply for jobs on the spot. After a failed attempt to deliver the applications in person to human resources, the crowd floated the applications to the second floor with giant helium balloons as Bank of America Merrill Lynch employees looked on.

Although the action got the attention of employees, some activists were skeptical that the bank would hire more people. Despite achieving the highest revenues of any investment bank worldwide in 2010 shortly after being acquired by Bank of America, the Merrill Lynch division has recently been laying people off.

Many activists emphasized that Bank of America Merrill Lynch has failed to deliver and should return public money so it can be used for housing, childcare, healthcare, food programs, schools, job programs, training opportunities, and other community needs.

“Mayor Bloomberg is proposing to cut $25 million from the Parks Opportunity program, which will directly impact 2,000 jobs a year,” said Keith Gamble of Community Voices Heard. “Recapturing Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s misspent subsidy money could help keep this important program—and the people it employs—alive.”

The action was part of the “Another World Is Possible” Week of Action, highlighting economic inequality and better solutions to city budget cuts and austerity. The theme of the May 11 marches and actions were a city where housing is a human right, a country with good jobs for all, a world where our basic needs are met. More actions are being planned throughout the spring as the city budget is debated and major corporations are holding shareholders meetings.

“I haven’t had a steady job in two years, but I’ve been getting by on part-time and temporary construction jobs,” said Carlos Encarnacion. “Instead of throwing money away on companies that aren’t creating jobs, we should invest public money in infrastructure to create good jobs and make our city a better place for everyone.”

Corporate subsidies are increasingly being called into question by activists, elected officials, regulators, and economic development practitioners. A report released last week by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli emphasized that IDA reform is needed to increase the transparency and accountability of this expensive corporate subsidy program. Earlier this week, elected officials in New York City attempted to delay and further investigate the lavish Fresh Direct subsidy deal awarded in February. And earlier this week in Erie County, NY, board members of the Lancaster IDA rejected an application for assistance from a pizzeria, the first project they had rejected at least three years, if ever.

“New York State spends about $3 billion a year on corporate subsidies, and New Yorkers are too often in the dark about whether this money is having any kind of positive community impact,” said Matt Ryan, Executive Director of ALIGN. “We need some straightforward, broad reforms to ensure our main job creation programs actually create jobs and community benefits.”

ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York’s mission is to create good jobs, vibrant communities, and an accountable democracy for all New Yorkers. Our work unites worker, community, and other allies to build a more just and sustainable New York. Visit for more information. Along with the Buffalo-based Coalition for Economic Justice, ALIGN anchors the statewide Getting Our Money’s Worth coalition.