Dress Codes for Customers at the Berkeley Credit Union?!? An Open Letter to Fadhila Holman, Manager, Berkeley Co-op Credit Union

Robert Brokl and Alfred Crofts
Monday November 09, 2015 - 04:15:00 PM

My husband and I have been members of the Berkeley Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union (now at Ashby and Adeline) for approximately 40 years, and your four moves during that period. We were happy to see the swelling number of members after the commercial banking disasters, and people looking for alternative community banking. However, after that giddy period at the credit union, we have noticed a chill, an unfriendliness. The imposition of the restrictive no dog policy, increasingly long holds on deposits, and apparently large staff turnover are examples. That change in tone was manifested like a ton of bricks last week, by the decree by fiat of your new dress code and its implementation by your aggressive and hostile security guard.  

I had been asked to “tip" my baseball cap by the same guard recently. I was taken aback, but in a hurry, and complied. (A note: I am hair-challenged, my scalp and head is sensitive to cold and sun, and I wear a hat nearly everywhere with no problem.) Last Friday, Nov. 6, as we entered the bank, the guard demanded I remove my cap. I hesitated this time. He then demanded that Alfred Crofts, my husband and fellow member, take off his sunglasses, who angrily refused. The guard referred us to the notice posted on the front window as justification. He then ordered the tellers not to serve us until we complied, but they did anyway. Later, we checked out the new sign, which “requests” customers remove “hats, hoods, headgear, and sunglasses…” Code. 

So, our question for you, is this new policy for reasons of customers obscuring their identity or weapons? If it is to protect against weapons, then obviously purses, bags, backpacks, briefcases, etc. are suspect and would need to be searched or x-rayed. If for purposes of identification and for security cameras, why stop there? Will you next be adding yarmakas, Sikh turbans, head scarves, hijabs, niqabs, burkas, al-amiras, shaylas, chadors, respiratory masks, wigs or toupees, hats for chemo patients with hair loss, heavy make-up, Halloween or party costumes, etc. What about customers stopping in on the way to formal occasions, dressed formally?  

And will your insensitive security guard—the credit union’s de facto customer ambassador and representative--get to make the obvious judgment calls that will be necessary? (He is in marked contrast with the other regular guard, Lena, who is remarkably courteous and friendly. ) Alfred pointed out on Friday the customer at the window next to us who was also wearing sunglasses, with no objection from the guard. After his recent eye injury, Harry Reid wears dark glasses—would he be refused service? Stevie Wonder? 

Since this IS Berkeley, what about the customers who dress for personal or artistic expression or for religious reasons (c.f., the recent Abercrombie and Fitch head scarf ruling)?  

Since Friday, we have been researching whether the credit union policy is simply part of a trend toward airport security at other venues? Certainly that has not been our personal experience in other Bay Area banks we patronize and we noted the Wells Fargo bank in SF Civic Center next to the public library and a large homeless population has only a “no smoking” sign at the entrance. Closer at hand, the Oakland Temescal Bank of the West has no such signs, dogs allowed. The Wells Fargo in the Berkeley Elmwood at College and Ashby, which has had several robberies, has plexiglass windows protecting the tellers (but not all the employees), dog-friendly with treats. In Downtown Berkeley on Shattuck, at Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Union, and Mechanics Banks no dress codes, plexi barriers for the tellers at Union Bank, all except Bank of America dog-friendly, which does allow dogs for the “handicapped." 

In summary, the Cooperative Credit Union with its dress codes is not just an outlier, but the exception, and management is exposing the credit union (and its members) to anti-discrimination litigation. 

Our request is simply that the policy be immediately rescinded, that the credit union if necessary undertake a public process regarding personal attire and security issues, and that—at a minimum—the security guard receive sensitivity training. The other question of course is why such provocative, controversial, and rare if not non-existent elsewhere policy got implemented in the first place, under the radar?