Snowy protest at Philly Fed

Ten cold protesters from a national group called Fed Up gathered at the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia in the storm this afternoon to urge the Fed to pay more attention to boosting employment and listening to groups representing wage workers and poor people.

The group, which includes labor union and church groups as well as local affilates such as North Philadelphia-based Action United, says its national leaders met with Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen in Washington last year, but they have had a tough time getting Fed officials who oversee regional banks and regulatory teams, such as Charles Plosser, the free-market economist who retired in March (corrected) as the Philly Fed President, to take them seriously. Other Fed Up affilates held protests in New York, Charlotte, St. Louis, and other Fed cities today. More are planned, said Shawn Sebastian of the liberal, Brooklyn-based Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups supporting Fed Up.

"Plosser never gave us a meeting," said Action United leader Kendra Brooks, who said she's been organziing poor people to press for improved government job, education and housing programs since she was laid off from her management job at an Easter Seals affiliate in 2012. Philly Fed corporate secretary Herb Taylor and other local Fed officials did meet with a Fed Up delegation last fall, and Philly Fed leaders have also held meetings with labor unions and community groups, Fed spokesman Jim Ely reminded the group.

"But they gave us crumbs," said Brooks, noting that labor and community-group leaders were not part of the inner circle who selected Plosser's replacement, University of Delaware President Patrick Harker, a Philly Fed board member who will succeed Plosser as President in July. 

Under Ed Boehne, the regional bank's President from the 1970s into the 1990s, the Philly Fed forced banks to expand their inner-city direct-lending programs and ensured labor representation on the Fed board.  

Brooks questioned whether Boehne's successors share that committment to listening to and serving all sectors. She said corporate executives like Comcast chief financial officer Michael Angelakis and investor James Nevels, who led the committee that chose Harker, don't represent a wide range of residents of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve district, which covers eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.

"Comcast does not represent our community, the universities do not represent the community. We need our voices to be heard, also," she said.

Group leaders said they are frustrated the Fed has not pushed banks to be more flexible in setting payment terms for stressed homeowners, or show the forebearance banks often show to troubled corporate borrowers. They note that unemployment rates for African Americans and Latinos are significantly higher than for Philadelphia-area residents as a whole.

Action United member Lionel Rice said he's running out of time. He told me he hasn't been able to find a job paying more than fast-food wages since he was laid off after 20 years at the Penn Maid dairy plant in Northeast Philadelphia three years ago. He said a housing finance agency is preparing to foreclose on his home in Olney.

Ely said he would bring the group's petition to Fed officials' attention.