The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.7 million members, has officially cut ties with banking giant Wells Fargo for the company’s ongoing relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
According to USA Today, the move came after Wells Fargo declined to heed the union’s recommendation that it forgo its lending relationship with the gun lobbying group or impose new restriction on firearms manufacturers, in wake of the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.
After the shooting, young survivors and youth activists, along with their educators and fellow gun control advocates, pushed for tighter restrictions on gun sales and urged boycotts of any business that maintained a working relationship with the NRA.
Although other business have since severed ties with the gun lobbying group, Wells Fargo — dubbed the “preferred financier for the U.S. gun industry” by Bloomberg due to the hundreds of millions in loans and bonds its handed out to firearm and ammunition companies since 2012 — has shown reluctance to change.
That stubbornness prompted the American Federation of Teachers to cut ties with the bank, which previously created a $28 million line of credit for the NRA and “operates [its] primary accounts,” according to Bloomberg: on Thursday, AFT notified Wells Fargo in a letter that it would no longer “offer or promote” the bank’s mortgage lending program to its members and would remove it from its AFT member benefits site.
“Despite our several attempts, by phone and email, to schedule [a meeting to discuss Wells Fargo’s support for the NRA], your office’s response has been radio silence,” AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote. “At the same time, we have read in the press that you will continue your relationship with the NRA. Since we [first] wrote to you expressing our concerns, we have been attacked by the NRA and its communication arm, NRATV, in the vilest ways.”
She added, “We can only assume that, in light of your silence and the NRA attacks, you have decided that the NRA business is more valuable to you than students and their educators are.”
As USA Today notes, AFT’s departure “represents a financial blow to the nation’s third-largest bank by assets”: 1,600 member families received Wells Fargo mortgages last year, and more than 20,000 union members currently hold mortgages with the bank.
AFT has found itself the target of the NRA’s ire in recent weeks, after it wrote to Wells Fargo on March 29, asking it to cut ties with the gun lobbying group. On April 10, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield fired back in a segment on his show, Stinchfield, calling AFT members “lazy” and claiming they posed the greatest threat to children’s safety.
“AFT sees the NRA as an obstacle to pushing a radical agenda, one where lazy progressives can sit all day in a classroom while students languish,” he said. “The AFT prefers a boot on throat of these low income kids, to keep them down, to be dependent on government. …I’ll put this bluntly: Randi Weingarten and the AFT are one of the greatest threats to our children.”
Last time I looked it was teachers shielding kids…and taking $$ out of their pockets for supplies for kids…
Stop bullying .. and why are you so afraid of us asking Wells Fargo to make a choice….. children or guns????
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) April 11, 2018
Weingarten responded a short while later, tweeting, “Last time I looked it was teachers shielding kids…and taking $$ out of their pockets for supplies for kids…Stop bullying. And why are you so afraid of us asking Wells Fargo to make a choice….. children or guns????”
The NRA has faced a mass corporate exodus over the past two months, after ThinkProgress published a list of around two-dozen companies that offered incentives or discounts to NRA members and activists and Parkland shooting survivors began calling for those companies to cut ties with the gun group on social media. In the end, many of those companies severed their relationships with the NRA, including Bank of Omaha, which previously offered NRA members special branded Visa cards, as well as Enterprise Holdings, Allied Van Lines and North American Van Lines, Symantec, SimpliSafe, MetLife, and Lockton Affinity, which offers insurance to gun owners, in the event they use their firearm for self-defense.
Wells Fargo NRA spokespersons have not yet commented publicly on AFT’s decision to cut its business ties with the financial giant. The NRA has also been silent on the subject so far.
At least two of Wells Fargo’s competitors have already chosen to end their relationships with the NRA: JPMorgan Chase said recently that it had begun limiting its business dealings with gun manufacturers and Bank of America announced last week that it would no longer provide loans to companies that produce “military-style” rifles for civilian consumers.
Bank of America specifically cited the Parkland shooting as the catalyst for its decision, saying in a statement, “These are clients we have enjoyed a relationship with. There are those I think will reduce their portfolios and we’ll work with them and others that will choose to do something else.”