AFT Cuts Ties to Wells Fargo over Bank’s Support for Gun Lobby.

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Putting its money where its mouth is, the American Federation of Teachers has dumped its ties with Wells Fargo Bank and its program to offer lower-cost mortgages to teachers and staffers because of the big bank’s strong ties to and its funding of the National Rifle Association.

At the same time AFT released a report detailing how top investment firms – including firms that manage teachers’ pension money – are either dumping gun company stocks from their portfolios or using the power of the purse to force the companies into moves to curb gun access, end the availability of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and introduce measures to curb individual gun deadliness.

Union President Randi Weingarten announced the move against Wells Fargo and unveiled the report on April 19. The report is available on the union’s website.

The next day, AFT members and state and local officers, joined by their colleagues from the National Education Association (NEA) and the School Administrators (AFSA), staged the latest in a series of campaigns nationwide seeking stronger gun control measures, banning guns in schools, and denouncing the NRA, the powerful “gun lobby.”

Tens of thousands of students, teachers, staffers and administrators, walked out of schools seeking safety measures.  April 20 was the 19th anniversary of the school massacre in Columbine, Colo.

A count of students killed in fatal shootings in K-12 schools, plus the Virginia Tech massacre, yields 216 dead from Columbine through the Feb. 14 massacre of 14 students, two teachers and the school’s athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Just before the national walkout on April 20, a student at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., shot another student, wounding the 17-year-old in the ankle.

Forest High students barricaded themselves in classrooms, stacking desks and chairs against doors and told CNN they could hear students in other classrooms crying.

AFT, the NEA and other groups have formed the #ProtectOurSchools coalition to foster the anti-gun violence campaign.

“The students leading this movement have captivated our nation — their voices are simply impossible for the National Rifle Association to silence,” AFT President Randi Weingarten, a New York City middle school civics teacher, told a rally.

“It’s our kids who have sheltered in closets, who have lost their friends, who have written texts to their families thinking they had one last opportunity to say they loved them, who have taken bullets for each other and who have witnessed killing sprees. It’s our kids who have spent their school lives in active shooter drills.”

“They are rightly fed up, and are now mobilizing our country in an effort to ensure safe streets and safe schools free from gun violence. They are turning this moment into a movement for change. And their teachers are standing with them, not just in these actions, but in calling for commonsense gun safety measures from our financial community and from our legislators.”

NEA members also joined the April 20 events, and NEA member Jack Pflug offered a first step to cutting down gun violence – research – and said the NRA is blocking it.

“Solving our national epidemic of gun injuries and deaths requires the same type of scientific research that helped us save half a million lives from road traffic crashes without banning cars,” Pflug wrote on NEA’s blog.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data on many kinds of violence, including child abuse, youth violence, suicides and sexual assaults; but it doesn’t collect data on gun violence for the sole reason that the NRA and its lackeys are responsible for urging Congress to pass the Dickey Amendment in 1996. The amendment banned the CDC from researching gun violence as a public health issue when over 30,000 Americans a year die from firearms.”

AFT also decided to use financial clout to get action against the NRA and its backers. That’s why it pulled out of the pact with Wells Fargo and issued the report. Weingarten said the big bank’s CEO wouldn’t even meet to discuss its support of the gun lobby.

“AFT will officially remove the bank from its list of approved lenders, sending a letter to each of its state federation leaders alerting them of the change. The AFT will urge other Union Privilege members to follow suit,” Weingarten said.

“Gun violence is an epidemic, but (bank CEO) Tim Sloan won’t even engage in a conversation about mitigating it, much less take any real steps…So if Wells Fargo won’t value children and teachers above guns, we won’t do business with Wells Fargo,” Weingarten said. “It can be the bank for America’s teachers, or it can be the bank for the NRA and gun manufacturers. But, given the NRA’s refusal to even help mitigate gun violence, Wells Fargo can’t be both.”

“Other companies, like Bank of America, BlackRock and Vanguard, stepped up and engaged in meaningful conversations about what responsible relationships with gun companies look like, but Wells Fargo won’t. In fact, when we tried to schedule a meeting to discuss it, its friends at NRATV started launching vile attacks on teachers.”

“We’re ending this relationship because we have a responsibility to our members and their students, who face potential gun violence every day. Gun violence is a public health epidemic, and in order to help stop it, we’ll stop the flow of resources to the companies that manufacture these weapons that have caused so much civilian carnage and death.”

Like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who have transformed the national discussion on gun control, the union isn’t going to let politicians who bow and scrape to the NRA off the hook, either.

“Today, we organized rallies, marches and voter registration drives to remind our elected officials: You work for us, the people. These last few months have been about demonstrations and walking out, but come November, we’ll walk in to the voting booth to elect allies in this fight against gun violence,” Weingarten vowed.                       


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