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Wells Fargo called out by teachers union over gun industry ties
[NEW YORK] Wells Fargo & Co's ties to the gun industry may soon be costing it business.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a national union with 1.7 million members, may drop the bank as a recommended mortgage lender because of its financial involvement with gunmakers and the National Rifle Association (NRA), according to correspondence released Friday to Bloomberg News by the AFT.
Last year, Wells Fargo assisted 1,600 AFT families with home financing, Tim Sloan, the bank's chief executive officer, said in his letter to the union.
"If they want the mortgage market from teachers then they have to make a decision, and that's what we're saying to them," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in an interview. "If they decide that they still want to do that business with the NRA and gun manufacturers, then we're not going to offer our members their mortgage program."
Ms Weingarten first contacted Mr Sloan on March 29, according to three letters made public by the union. She expressed alarm that Wells Fargo helped the two biggest US firearm and ammunition companies access US$431.1 million in loans and bonds since December 2012, when 20 schoolchildren and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
In the letter, Ms Weingarten also mentioned the bank's support of the NRA. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo created a US$28 million line of credit for the NRA and operates the primary accounts for the pro-Second Amendment group, financial documents show.
"We hope that Wells Fargo will join other corporate leaders and take a stand to keep children and educators safe from gun violence," Ms Weingarten wrote.
In response, Mr Sloan said the bank valued its relationship with the teachers' union.
"We believe that the best way to make progress on the complex issues concerning gun violence is through the political and legislative process," Mr Sloan wrote.
He added, "I do not believe that the American public wants banks to decide which legal products consumers can and cannot buy." Stephanie Ahenkora, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, declined to comment further. The NRA didn't respond to requests for comment.
Hope to Meet
In the letters, both Ms Weingarten and Mr Sloan expressed the hope they could meet to discuss the issue. Ms Weingarten said the union would decide its course of action after the meeting.
Outdoor retailers including Dick's Sporting Goods, REI and LL Bean restricted gun sales after the Feb 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and teachers.
Michael R Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is a donor to groups that support gun control, including Everytown for Gun Safety.