Lee Saunders’ union is wrong to cut ties with UNCF over Koch funding

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In a stunning move that should anger every Black in America, AFSCME President Lee Saunders has decided that he and his union should deny Black students attending historically Black colleges and universities the opportunity to get an education.

In a letter to Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Saunders wrote in part, “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  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.”

My response to Saunders is, “Wow.” How can Lomax’s commitment to educating Black students be a “betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement?” I think Saunders can more appropriately be accused of that.

Two years ago, Saunders became the first Black man elected as president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). They are one of the largest unions in the country with 1.6 million members. They are also an unofficial part of the Democratic Party.

Saunders serves as a vice president of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which guides the daily work of the labor federation; he also serves as chair of its political committee. He is an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, treasurer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, president of Working America, and chairman of the board of Americans United for Change. He also serves on the board of the National Action Network (Al Sharpton’s group).

Saunders’ position is that if you are Black, you can only take money from those you agree with politically, even if that means reducing the number of Blacks who are able to go to college.

Lomax responded in part by saying, “I am saddened by the union’s decision, but it will not distract us from our mission of helping thousands of African-American students achieve their dream of a college degree.”

Saunders cutting ties with the UNCF is in direct opposition to their own resolution 150 which was passed at their 28th international convention. It reads in part, “WHEREAS: AFSCME’s commitment to equal rights for all American citizens, and its commitment to fighting discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, or political belief [emphasis added] has been longstanding.”

A smarter move, in my view, would have been for Saunders to ask Lomax to return the money to the Koch brothers and he and his union would make up for the lost money. After all, his union spends multiple millions of dollars every year to elect Democrats throughout the country.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site,  http://www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @raynard1223.

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