Guest: Leslie Tolf
The Union Plus Credit Card is just one of the many money-saving benefits available through Union Plus. And you don’t have to be a union member to enjoy many of these benefits. Learn more in this interview with Leslie Tolf.
Gerri: We’re talking about Labor Day today and the contributions that American workers make to our economy, and joining me is a special guest, Leslie Tolf. She is the President of Union Plus and it’s an organization for labor union members across the country, she’ll tell us more about it in a moment. She has helped to develop the Union Plus Credit Card which is the most worker-friendly card in the marketplace and she's also helped Union Plus in its efforts to provide more than $31 billion in low-cost mortgage loans to union members.
Her passion is for educational opportunities so she's also help create a scholarship program that’s providing more than $2 million for union members and their children to go to college and to pursue additional training. And they’re doing all kinds of cool stuff so let's find out about it. Leslie, welcome to the show and tell me about Union Plus, what is it?
Leslie: Thanks Gerri, it’s good to talk to you today and happy Labor Day. Union Plus is really the AARP for working families and retired workers. We have about 40 different benefits for people who are out there working in the labor force and as you mentioned we have everything from credit cards, to mortgages, to scholarships, to hardship assistance.
And although we’ve primarily been focused on labor union members of which there are about thirteen million, we just have a new group called Working America. So even if you're not part of a labor union and you’re a working person, Working America also provides benefits as well.
Gerri: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Union Privilege over the years in some of your educational outreach. One the centerpieces of your programs is your credit card and I don't think many people realize this that Union Plus was really at the vanguard of consumer protection when it came to credit cards. When the Credit Card Act, the credit card legislation that stopped some of the bad practices in the credit card industry came about about four years ago, a lot of the protections under the Card Act were things you were already doing for union members.
So tell me a little bit about the card program and how Union Plus tries to make sure that workers are getting a fair deal when they get a credit card?
Leslie: Yes, as you mentioned the Consumer Financial Protection Group up in Washington D.C. started a couple years ago, but before they started they actually came to us to look at our card program as the model for how they wanted to look at credit cards going forward. So a number of things - no junk fees, no tricks or traps as they call it, not looking at credit credit behavior on other cards as an indicator of how you might look at interest rates for your current card. So all sorts of things they were able to adopt.
One of the things that they haven't done however which we have is a huge hardship assistance program where we give out $1 million a year to working families. We pay their credit card minimum payments whether they’re on disability, they’ve gone out of the hospital with extravagant bills. We even have disaster relief grants and I know that down in Florida that’s come in handy over the years. So we do try to provide a safety net for our members and when they are feeling the strain of the economy.
Gerri: Leslie, talk about the new features on the credit card because you've instituted some new things on your Union Plus credit card program.
Leslie: There are a couple of things, Gerri. One is that we have a 1.5% cash back no cap. It's a very simple program no matter what you're spending your money on or when you're spending your money, it's 1.5%.
You may be familiar with direct mail that they get that says on Tuesday if you spend money on gas you’ll get 3%, and if it’s Friday and if you spend money on a restaurant it might be 10%, and it really does take a PhD to figure out where and when should you be spending your money. This is a very simple program, 1.5%.
The second piece which we mentioned before is this assistance for hardship. All of us hope that we’re not going to be in a situation where we’re in a hospital, or out of a job, or disabled. But when we are, it’s nice to have a card that helps us get back on our feet.
And then the third piece really is credit counseling. This is something that you talk a lot about in your program and we have a debt management program as you know about. So people who are really struggling, we will pay for the program (fees) once they’ve completed (their first year). The debt management program really helps members and working families to get them back on their feet.
We try to really provide advocacy in all that we do whether we’re promoting a credit card or mortgages or scholarships because we know that that's what people want.
Gerri: And another nice thing is all calls are answered in the U.S.A. so we like that.
Leslie: Yes. And that we’re truly unique as well. Most phone calls that you are dealing with with credit card companies are in Malaysia or India, and we like support American jobs.
Gerri: So can anyone get the Union Plus credit card?
Leslie: We were talking about this and actually if you're not a union member you can go to WorkingAmerica.org which is our sister organization. This is for non-union members and you can apply for the card through that portal. And as you know, getting a credit card these days is a little more difficult than it was 10 years ago but we do try to make it as easy as we can.
The other thing that we’re going to be launching in 2014, so stay tuned for this, is the credit builder for those members and those workers who don't have perfect credit. We will be able to get them into a preliminary program that will build their credit back up again and then graduate them back into a normal credit card. So we really are working heavily to get that launched in early 2014.
Gerri: And that's going to be huge for so many people who have been through the financial crisis.
Leslie: Yes, exactly. Many of you know that your cards have been taken away or your credit lines have been reduced and that's perfectly fine but we need to make sure that people who need credit whether it's getting a car rental or using it as I.D. can get credit.
Gerri: I’ve been talking to Leslie Tolf, President and CEO of Union Plus. The website is UnionPlus.org so you can check it out and see what benefits may be available to you. And as she mentioned. WorkingAmerica.org is their sister organization and you can join there and also get some of the benefits available to labor union members.
To hear about more benefits including mortgages and educational assistance, listen to the entire interview.
In 2000, Leslie was elected President of Union Privilege where she has developed a hardship assistance program that is the centerpiece of the Union Plus credit card; the most worker-friendly card in the marketplace. Under Leslie’s leadership, the Union Plus mortgage program has provided more than $31 billion in low-cost mortgage loans to union members.
Leslie’s passion for providing educational opportunities led her to create a scholarship program which has provided more than $2 million for union members and their children to go to college and pursue additional training. This year, she launched the LaborCorps Program, which pays back a portion of education loans to union activists.