US

Union Cuts Ties With Black College Group Over Koch Donation

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Chuck Ross
Reporter

A large public sector union says it is cutting ties with the United Negro College Fund over a donation it accepted from the Koch brothers, an act the union calls “a profound betrayal” to blacks.

Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, sent a letter Tuesday informing Michael Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), that the union would be ending its partnership with the educational organization in September.

The union is angry over a $25 million donation that UNCF accepted last month from the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch. The billionaires are heavily involved in libertarian, conservative, and philanthropic causes — and have become big targets of Democrats and unions.

“Like many supporters of the UNCF, I was deeply troubled by your decision to accept $25 million from David and Charles Koch,” wrote Saunders in a letter published by BuzzFeed.

“I was truly stunned to learn that less than two weeks later, you attended and spoke at the Koch brothers summit in California.”

Heads turned when UNCF announced the large donation last month. Most of it — $18.5 million — is set to go towards a scholarship fund. Another $6.5 million will be directed to historically black colleges and universities and loan assistance programs.

But in his letter, Saunders claims that the Kochs are openly hostile to black people.

“We are doing this as a result of actions taken as president of the UNCF that are not only deeply hostile to the rights and dignity of public employees, but also a profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement,” wrote Saunders.

“The Koch brothers and the organizations they fund have devoted themselves for more than a decade to attacking the voting rights African Americans.”

AFSCME, which is a part of the powerful AFL-CIO, has approximately 1.5 million members. Its partnership with UNCF involved its Union Scholars Program, in which AFSCME provided jobs to sophomores and juniors in college and provided scholarship opportunities afterward.

Lomax predicted backlash from his organization’s relationship with Koch.

“The response has been what we expected,” Lomax said in an interview last month of backlash aimed at UNCF. “The criticism has come but there’s also been strong affirmation, particularly within the African American community, that we should accept this gift.”

Following AFSCME’s decision, Lomax said that the union’s decision was disheartening but that it would not deter UNCF from its mission.

“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,” Lomax said in a statement.

“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,” continued Lomax, pointing out that UNCF had to deny 9 out of 10 qualified applicants due to lack of resources.

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