Fighting gun violence with divestment: AFT drops Wells Fargo over gun policy

Financiers on Wall Street may not respond to the language of protest, so the AFT is talking money: On April 19, the AFT cut ties with Wells Fargo, which maintains a close relationship with companies that manufacture assault weapons and with the National Rifle Association, despite our pleas to divest. The move means the mortgage giant could lose business from thousands of AFT members who, in the past, have used a member benefits tool to finance their home purchases through Wells Fargo.

“The lives of students and educators must be valued more than guns,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We have a responsibility to our members and their students, who face potential gun violence every day. [Wells Fargo] 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.”

Weingarten expressed alarm over Wells Fargo’s relationship with gun-makers and the NRA in a letter dated March 29. She noted that, since the 2012 school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Wells Fargo made accessible $431.1 million in loans and bonds to American Outdoor Brands (the parent company of Smith & Wesson) and Vista Outdoor, two of the largest firearm and ammunition companies in the United States. Wells Fargo also made $28 million in credit available to the NRA.

Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan responded to Weingarten’s letter by saying that the regulation of firearms should stay within the political and legislative process. “I do not believe that the American public wants banks to decide which legal products consumers can and cannot buy,” he wrote.

Weingarten responded April 6, standing by the initial demand for divestment. “We’re disappointed to hear that you won’t join leading firms, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, REI, L.L. Bean, Kroger and others that have taken concrete steps to keep schools and communities safe,” Weingarten wrote. In a follow-up release, she increased the pressure and said, “We’re issuing Wells Fargo an ultimatum—they can have a mortgage market that includes America’s teachers, or they can continue to do business with the NRA and gun manufacturers. They can’t do both.”

Her strong stance was met with vitriol from the NRA, which placed television ads, circulated a video and took to social media to call Weingarten, and the AFT in general, a threat to schoolchildren.

On April 19, the AFT severed ties with Wells Fargo.

“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,” Weingarten told Sloan in a letter. “As a result, as of today, April 19, 2018, we will no longer offer or promote the Wells Fargo mortgage program. … Our responsibility to the safety of our students, our members, our communities and the public compels this action.”

The AFT will continue its member benefits mortgage program with Union Plus and with Amalgamated Bank, which has adopted policies recommended by Everytown for Gun Safety’s Gun Safety Codes of Conduct. 

The AFT has also issued a report that discourages investment in any company that manufactures assault weapons and urges investment managers to sever ties with such companies.

[Virginia Myers]