WASHINGTON — One of the nation's largest public-sector unions is severing its ties with the United Negro College Fund because the group accepted donations from the Koch brothers and its president spoke at a Koch-funded summit.
In a letter sent Tuesday, AFSCME President Lee Saunders wrote that the UNCF has taken actions "deeply hostile" to public employees, which he considers a "profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement," and that the union will end its relationship with UNCF.
Saunders cited the UNCF's decision to accept a $25 million grant from Koch Industries, Inc. and the Charles Koch Foundation as a reason for the split, as well as the decision by UNCF President Michael Lomax to speak at a summit hosted by the Kochs in California.
The Kochs have donated tremendous amounts of money to advance conservative political causes in recent years, as well as well as various philanthropic efforts.
Saunders wrote that he was "deeply troubled" by the grant, but assumed Lomax was "in no way supporting" the views of the Kochs:
Saunders later described the Koch brothers as the "single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting."
AFSCME's relationship with the UNCF revolved around their Union Scholars Program, in which sophomore- and junior-year college students could work with AFSCME during the summer and receive scholarship support aftwerward.
That program will cease on Sept. 1.
"We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we promote through the Union Scholars Program," Saunders wrote. "To practice what we preach, to fight for social justice, and to stand up for what we beleive. I cannot in good conscience face these students or AFSCME's members if I looked the other way and ignored your actions."
A UNCF spokesman sent BuzzFeed the following statement from Lomax:
"UNCF has over 100,000 donors with a wide range of views, but they all have one thing in common: they believe in helping young students of color realize their dreams of a college education. For over 70 years we have never had a litmus test and we have asked all Americans to support our cause.
This year alone, UNCF awarded $100 million in scholarships to more than 12,000 students at 900 schools across the country, yet had to deny 9 out of every 10 qualified applicants due to lack of resources.
While I am saddened by AFSCME's decision, it will not distract us from our mission of helping thousands of African American students achieve their dream of a college degree and the economic benefits that come with it.”