Al Sharpton’s Group Backs Public Workers Union In Split With Historic Black Group Over Koch Brothers

AFSCME vs. the United Negro College Fund. “We believe that AFSCME is doing what is right for its members.”

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The National Action Network will side with one of the nation’s largest public sector unions in its recent decision to break ties with the United Negro College Fund because of donations the group received from the Kochs.

National Action Network, whose president is MSNBC host and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, said in a statement to BuzzFeed that while it recognizes the “funding landscape has changed,” the Koch brothers “have not only worked on initiatives that have a disenfranchising effect on the same students UNCF supported institutions work to educate, the Koch brothers have also led efforts to end union organizing.”

The Kochs are major donors to conservative political causes but also donate a large amount to other philanthropic efforts, and this conflict is the latest in a long line of public battles over civil rights’ groups accepting donations from corporations and wealthy individuals’ looking to improve their images with minority communities.

Earlier this month, AFSCME President Lee Saunders — whose membership includes many black public workers — wrote a letter to UNCF President Michael Lomax informing him that because the group accepted donations from the Kochs, the union would end its partnership with them.

“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,” Saunders wrote.

Here is NAN’s statement:


While National Action Network respects the work done by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in support of students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities and understand the need to raise funds to continue this critical work, we stand in support of the decision by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to sever ties and end their partnership with the UNCF. As a nonprofit civil rights organization, NAN recognizes that the funding landscape has changed and many organizations must figure out ways to continue their programming by bringing in new types of funders. However, the Koch brothers have not only worked on initiatives that have a disenfranchising effect on the same students UNCF supported institutions work to educate, the Koch brothers have also led efforts to end union organizing. We believe that AFSCME is doing what is right for its members who the Koch brothers have targeted and is working in the interests of students of color who attend not only UNCF Institutions, but all institutions of higher learning. But most importantly, AFSCME is working to support the value of justice. The union has already committed to continuing to support students of color by working directly with colleges and universities, so the end of the partnership does not signal an end to opportunities in organizing for students.

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