Posted: 07/10/2014 3:10 pm EDT Updated: 07/10/2014 3:59 pm EDT Print Article
By: Lee A. Saunders
President, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
Last month, United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax announced that his organization has received a $25-million grant from the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who also fund efforts to suppress voters' rights and workers' rights. I sent the following letter to Lomax on July 8.
Dr. Michael Lomax
President, United Negro College Fund
1805 7th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Dr. Lomax:
As you know, AFSCME has a partnership with UNCF that began more than a decade ago. We are very proud of the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program. The program gives sophomore and junior students of color the opportunity to work with AFSCME over the summer, learn about the labor movement, and receive scholarship support during their junior and senior years of college. Through the program, we have helped dozens of students find jobs with AFSCME or in other social justice organizations. AFSCME has gained many talented new staff. And a generation of students has learned about workers' rights and the value of public services.
We have been especially proud of the Union Scholars Program and our partnership with the UNCF because of our union's commitment to racial equity and social justice. We are dedicated to providing the necessary support for young people of color to join the AFSCME team and build a staff that reflects the increasingly diverse population of our nation.
Therefore it is with the deepest regret that 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.
Like many supporters of the UNCF, I was deeply troubled by your decision to accept $25 million from David and Charles Koch. But I assumed that in accepting those funds you were in no way supporting or lending the name of the UNCF to the political or social causes or substantive views of the Koch brothers.
So I was truly stunned to learn that less than two weeks later, you attended and spoke at the Koch brothers summit in California. This was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for. The avowed purpose of this private event was to build support -- financial and political -- for the Koch brothers' causes. 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.
The Koch brothers and the organizations they fund have devoted themselves for more than a decade to attacking the voting rights of African Americans. They support voter identification laws. They seek to restrict early voting and voter registration. They support laws that threaten organizations that register voters in the African American community.
They funded organizations that advocated for the Supreme Court's rolling back of the Voting Rights Act and the removal of the special protections the act provided to people of color in those parts of the country where so many of our forebears were killed for seeking to exercise their right to vote. The Koch brothers are the single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting.
Lending your name to the Koch brothers' efforts to disenfranchise African Americans would be sufficient to compel me to sever our relationship. But it is not my only objection to your actions. Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, was also a speaker at the Koch brothers' summit. There is no person in America whose work is more opposed to the fundamental mission of the UNCF than Charles Murray. For decades, he has dedicated himself to promoting the notion that the over-representation of African Americans among America's poor and in America's prisons is the consequence not of our history or of the types of public policies the Koch brothers promote, but rather is a consequence of our genetic inferiority. The unmistakable implication of his work is that the UNCF effort to provide paths out of poverty and despair for African Americans and other students of color is futile.
According to Professor Murray, we and our children are genetically inferior. For these reasons, I must sever the relationship between our organizations. Effective September 1, 2014, we will not continue our partnership. I am also urging all AFSCME affiliates to sever their relationships with and cease fundraising for the UNCF. We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we promote through the Union Scholars Program: 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.
AFSCME remains committed to the mission of the Union Scholars Program. We will work directly with historically black and other colleges and universities, faculty members, student organizations, and other allies to make internship, scholarship and job opportunities available to students of color. With disappointment and determination we will continue the work without you and the UNCF.