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Exclusive: Wells Fargo loses teachers union AFT over ties to NRA, guns

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/19/2018 Kevin McCoy and Nathan Bomey
a black storefront with white letters: File photo taken in 2017 shows a Wells Fargo sign outside one of the bank's locations in San Francisco, California © Justin Sullivan, Justin Sullivan, Getty Images File photo taken in 2017 shows a Wells Fargo sign outside one of the bank's locations in San Francisco, California

Wells Fargo's financial relationship with gun makers and the National Rifle Association has cost the bank its mortgage business with a major U.S. union.

The American Federation of Teachers on Thursday notified the San Francisco-based financial giant that it is dropping the bank as a recommended mortgage lender for the national education union's 1.7 million members.

The action came after Wells Fargo spurned the union's call to cut lending ties with or impose new restrictions on firearms business partners following the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan told AFT President Randi Weingarten in an April 3 letter obtained by USA TODAY that the best route to combatting gun violence "is through the political and legislative process." Although Sloan suggested a meeting or conference call to discuss the issue, the sides never got together.

More: Gun clients and banks: JPMorgan limits firearms clients, Wells Fargo keeps them

AFT President Randi Weingarten told USA TODAY that Wells Fargo sent signals loud and clear through "radio silence."

"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 on Thursday in a letter obtained by USA TODAY.

The action represents a financial blow to the nation's third-largest bank by assets. Wells Fargo's mortgage program had been featured in the Union Privilege program on the AFT website, and roughly 1,600 member families received mortgages from the bank in 2017. In all, more than 20,000 AFT members currently hold Wells Fargo mortgages.

Representatives for Wells Fargo and the NRA did not respond to requests seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

"We essentially said you can have the mortgage business … or you can continue to value guns more than the people who serve in schools and the kids that have been affected by gun violence," Weingarten said in the interview.

Related video: Wells Fargo will not stop working with gunmakers (provided by Wochit)

Weingarten also called on pension asset managers to reexamine their investments by ruling out gun companies as too risky.

The severed ties between union and bank ups the ante in efforts to change businesses' policies toward gun makers and retailers since the Florida high school massacre.

Amid calls and marches for stricter gun control, Wells Fargo's major rivals among the nation's largest banks have announced they either would or already had taken action to limit their business exposure to the firearms industry.

JPMorgan Chase's chief financial officer said its business dealings with gunmakers "have come down significantly and are pretty limited." A Bank of America vice president said the company would no longer finance or underwrite military-style weapons. And Citigroup said it would require its business partners to bar firearm sales to customers under age 21, as well as those who have not passed background checks.

Businesses in other sectors are also coming under pressure to cut ties to the gun-rights lobby. Several major companies have cut discounts for members of the NRA, including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Enterprise, Avis Budget, Hertz, TrueCar, MetLife and Symantec.

Major retailers have also taken a stand. Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart recently banned the sale of guns to anyone under 21. Dick's also ended assault-style rifles, which Walmart had already done, and vowed to back policies banning them nationwide.

The NRA has bashed companies that severed ties to the interest group in recent weeks.

"Some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement in February.

The group said "the law-abiding members of the NRA had nothing at all to do with the failure of that school’s security preparedness, the failure of America’s mental health system, the failure of the National Instant Check System or the cruel failures of both federal and local law enforcement."


Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc.

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