AFL-CIO protesters attempt to break up MBA conference
[Update 2: adds MBA, Pulte Homes reaction] A swarm of demonstrators crashed the Mortgage Bankers Association summit on the future of mortgage servicing in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to protest the government's bailout of the financial system. At the heart of the protest is the demand for jobs. Union protesters are claiming that, due to relaxed tax laws, homebuilders aren't doing their part to share the wealth. Both the MBA and the homebuilders are firing back. The group of between 50 and 100 AFL-CIO union workers originally met in the first floor of the JW Marriott hotel, but then started making noise. During the second panel of the day featuring Ginnie Mae President Ted Tozer, American Securitization Forum Executive Director Tom Deutsche and others, demonstrators pushed past security and into the conference room on the lower level of the hotel, wearing hard hats and unraveling a banner that read: "Show us the $900 million bailout money." The group supported by the Detroit Metro and the Metro Washington AFL-CIO specifically pointed to the Pulte Group and its lending arm Pulte Mortgage. A spokesperson for PulteGroup, James Zeumer, said that the company had heard of a possible protest but was reassured the workers would not make it down to the conference rooms. "Union comments and protests are merely the latest publicity stunt in their years-long “corporate campaign” against Pulte Homes, other large home builders and the homebuilding industry as a whole," Zeumer said. "At the heart of the issue is the unions’ need to increase membership." Zeumer added that Pulte Homes builds the majority of its homes by working with thousands of highly skilled and committed local and regional trade partners. These trade partners are typically small, independent companies that "are the engine of our economy." "This is the second time we have attempted to get answers from Pulte executives about how they spent the money," Saundra Williams, president of the Metro Detroit ALF-CIO said, in reference to the net operating loss carryback tax provisions that allow homebuilders to put taxes paid in profitable years toward taxes due in terrible years. According to Zeumer, Pulte realized a tax benefit of approximately $917 million in 2009. In 2010, PulteGroup invested more than $1.0 billion in new land and development to support its ongoing operations. In addition, at the end of the third quarter, the Company had approximately $2.7 billion of cash on its balance sheet. "As has been well documented, the U.S. housing industry continues to struggle, which is limiting growth, but we continue to invest in the business to capitalize on market opportunities as they develop," he said. But the protesters want a bigger piece of the pie. June Rostan, the organizer of this particular demonstration came down the escalator with a cane and bag full of press releases. "We came here to get our bailout," Allen Silver, a sheet metal worker who had recently lost his job, told HousingWire. When the protesters were told by hotel security that the police were on their way, the crowd disbursed peacefully. No arrests were made, and no formal charges have been filed. However, the MBA said the protesters' voices are ultimately misguided. "This conference was organized to address the serious issues facing borrowers and servicers. It is unfortunate that they chose this venue to make their statement. The outcome of this summit is to find ways to help borrowers and ultimately create jobs," an MBA spokesman told HousingWire. Write to Jon Prior. For continual coverage of the MBA conference today, follow him on Twitter: @JonAPrior Jacob Gaffney contributed to this report.