business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

At the end of my column on credit/debit card fees earlier this week, I urged you all to start taking action by first getting mad. Well, it’s been all of three days and let me say this clearly:

I, for one, am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

The transaction fee debate moved in an unexpected direction this week. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the National Education Association (NEA) inexplicably jumped into the financial reform issue. The powerful teachers’ union is urging the US Congress to delay enforcement of the Durbin Amendment that would regulate the fees banks can charge retailers for handling credit and debit cards.

Say what?

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. I really like teachers. I have two sisters involved in public education (plus a sister-in-law and Mrs. Content Guy) and I think they all do a fabulous job. So nothing I have to say here is about bashing teachers because I wouldn’t trade places with them for one second.

That said: why in the world is the NEA jumping into this issue? Sadly the NEA website had no information about this issue and my call to the NEA press office went unreturned. But the Post had the NEA’s letter to House and Senate Leaders.

“We believe that this amendment, while well-intentioned, could have a significant negative impact on the cost of mainstream banking services to middle and lower-income consumers, including teachers and education support professionals, because of the benefits currently made possible by debit cards,” the NEA letter reads, according to the Post.

Let’s simplify that. Because the banks may charge fees, these groups think the banks should keep charging fees. I wonder who the NEA thinks is paying the current fees that are levied on retailers? Sorry to tell you, but they are passed onto those same teachers and education support professionals along with all other consumers of all products. But let’s not think this through too much. In short, because the banks behave like bullies, let’s leave them alone.

As I said, I’m mad as hell, which leads me to two angry thoughts. First, I’m still hoping to talk with someone at the NEA to find out if this position has anything to do with the branded credit cards the union offers members. I don’t know if that influenced their position, but it sure doesn’t look great.

Yet, today I am ready to take another step. There isn’t a supermarket, drug store, convenience store, hardware store or other market in this country that doesn’t regularly run community-based promotions tied to local schools and I think that’s wonderful. But what would happen if the next time these retailers are approached with those promotions, they have a regular policy to ask for a copy of the e-mail or letter from the local teachers union telling the NEA to change its position on swipe fees?

If they tell you that’s impossible, tell them to take the promotion to the nearest bank. I’m sure they’ll be really helpful!

Maybe, then, the NEA will be mad as hell.
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