Union Stops Support of United Negro College Fund Over Koch Donation

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which supports traditionally black colleges and universities through scholarships, recently accepted $25 million from Koch Industries, a conservative company that advocated for the end of public schools in 1980.

This move caused the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to pull its support the fund.  The union will no longer partner with or raise funds with the UNCF, AFSCME president Lee Saunders said in a letter made public this week, writes Jesse Holland for Yahoo! News.

“I write to notify you that we must sever our partnership.  We are doing this as a result of actions you have 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.”

Saunders went on to discuss the decision of UNCF president Michael Lomax to appear at a Koch event.

“This was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for … your appearance at the summit can only be interpreted as a sign of your personal support and the UNCF’s organizational support of the Koch brothers’ ideological program.”

According to Saunders, the Koch brothers are the “single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting.”

This view caused a conflict for the AFSCME, who ran a Union Scholars Program through the UNCF, allowing 94 sophomores and juniors to work at AFSCME during the summer as well as receiving a $4,000 stipend and a $5,000 scholarship, writes Greg Piper for The College Fix.

AFSCME gave almost $60,000 a year to the UNCF for the program, which has been running since 2003.  Saunders said the program would continue without the UNCF in September of this year.

“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 believe. I cannot in good conscience face these students or AFSCME’s members if I looked the other way and ignored your actions.”

A spokesman for UNCF commented on the loss of AFSCME’s backing with this statement to Buzzfeed:

“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.”

AFSCME is the nation’s largest public services employees union, boasting more than 1.6 million members.

The Koch brothers have given millions in campaign donations to Republican Congressional candidates, but are not very well known to the American public, according to an article by The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan:

The donation comes as Democrats have been actively seeking to vilify Charles and David Koch’s influence within the Republican Party in hopes of turning them into midterm electoral bogeymen. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has lambasted them on the Senate floor, while Democratic groups have been running ads casting them in a negative light.