I am a musician, artist, facility director and hopeless progressive, and I thought I'd share the story about my experience kicking the Koch habit.
My wife is disabled, I have a daughter in college and another in braces. I can't afford to rely on the inconsistent income of an artist the way I did before I had a family to support, so, like many other artists, I have a day job. My day job is as Facilities Director for a service industry company on an 18 acre campus. I call it my benefits gig. We have about 2,000 guests through our doors every day, 60,000 per month or 720,000 per year, not including thousands of visitors who come as participants and observers to numerous regional and national events held at our facility. We probably have annual traffic of just under 1,000,000, no Disneyland but we keep pretty busy. I should also mention our CEO, my boss, is a staunch Republican. Follow below the fold to see how I kicked the Koch habit.
During the 2012 election I first began reading about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The more I learned about it and its founders, the Koch Brothers, the more disgusted I got. They were financing their anti-democracy, libertarian and exclusionary political agenda with their inherited wealth and the profits from their many companies, which produced goods ranging from household paper, to construction materials, fertilizer, oil and coal. In 2013, I gladly joined the call to boycott their products with my family's household purchases. http://www.boycottkochbrothers.com/
But I was now also painfully aware that for many years I had not only been underwriting their nefarious political endeavors as a private citizen but also in a much more substantial way.
With the thousands of people on our campus every day we go through a lot of consumable amenities; items like soap, lotion, paper towels and toilet paper. We have purchased a majority of our paper products and cleaning supplies though one primary supply company for about twenty years and have always been happy with their competitive prices and superior service. I am sure they are just as happy with the approximately $60-70K worth of products we purchase each year, a good percentage of which are produced by Georgia Pacific, a Koch owned company. As Facilities Director, I am responsible for making the decisions about purchasing supplies. I've been essentially helping finance ALEC, AFP and their disgusting causes. Ouch!
It was time for me to make a change. But it was not that easy.
Firstly, our supplier is not owned by the Kochs. They are a local, third generation, family owned business.
Our account representative of twenty years, I'll call him Sam, has always taken care of us in ways that go beyond the service provided by most vendors. He has come out after closing at 10 pm to help troubleshoot cleaning issues. He has provided in-service training for my staff. He actively supports our charity events in a big way with donations of cash and goods, including hundreds of baseball tickets for at-risk school kids and their families. When I screw up by not ordering enough of something he will personally drive 20 miles on a Friday afternoon with an emergency delivery to make sure we don't run out over the weekend. And he isn't really even our account rep anymore. He was promoted years ago but still personally manages our account out of loyalty. You get the picture. He is a great guy. He's got family. Kids in college.
So I called Sam and expressed my concerns. I brought up Georgia Pacific and the Koch Brothers. I told him I didn't like supporting a company that on their face promoted themselves as a socially responsible manufacturer of green, energy efficient products while its owners were working vigorously to roll back environmental regulations, were likely connected to the toxic spill in West Virginia, and were notorious climate change deniers. He said he knew the Koch brothers were "despicable" people but didn't know how much of role they played in running the company. I asked him to look into it and get back to me.
Meanwhile, I googled some GP competitors like Kimberly-Clark, another consumables producer. They have a decidedly "green" public face and even have a nice endorsement from Greenpeace on their web site. but not a great environmental record including plenty of past run-ins with Greenpeace. To be fair I logged onto the Georgia Pacific web site [http://www.gp.com/Company/Sustainability and found its equally "green" sustainability page, "Sustainability: Every Day, In Everything We Do to be a carefully crafted, self referencing, intentionally government free ruse.
Through collaboration with customers, suppliers and environmental non-governmental groups, Georgia-Pacific has been able to update its policies to incorporate practices that are consistent with its desire to act responsibly and remain a good corporate citizen.The bold is mine.
About five years ago there was an outbreak of MRSA, a virulent, antibiotic resistant staph bacteria and we decided to install hands-free paper, soap and sanitizer dispensers throughout the campus, which cost us several thousand dollars. All of these dispensers were manufactured by Georgia Pacific and are proprietary to their products. In an effort to reduce waste and be more green we also added "coreless" toilet paper dispensers and "unbleached" paper towel rolls. All of these made by, you guessed it, Georgia Pacific.
Meanwhile Sam emailed me with some links to sources that exonerated GP from being connected to the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia, to which I responded with links to the research I had done on GP and its competitors. I asked him to give me some alternatives, which he did. Great!
But there was a catch. We would have to buy new dispensers for most of the products. Now I would have to explain to my Obama bashing, Reagan worshiping, government hating boss why we need to spend a few thousand dollars to replace our otherwise perfectly functional dispensers. Whether I were to phase the change in a few per month or do it all at once, he would be likely to notice. He signs all the PO's. He'll want to know. Do it all at once: 95% chance he'll ask and I'm not confident he'll approve. Phase them in over sixty days: 80% he'll ask. Phase them in over 180 days: maybe 40% he'll ask, and only after the deed is done. I won't get fired, but he'll probably be pissed.
Now don't get me wrong. My boss is a great boss. In fact many of the ways he manages our company are actually quite progressive. He treats our employees like valuable human beings and several years ago decided we would pay our entry level employees at least $1.50 over minimum wage and lowered eligibility for health and retirement benefits from 40 to 32 hrs./week. I believe it is part of his mission in life to prove that the private sector has a heart and more than government can be trusted to do the right thing. But he espouses conservative policies that allow other companies to act belligerently and with impunity and it is hard to reconcile his seeming split personality. All that aside, he runs a tight ship with expenses and making a change that would cost our company money, for political reasons would be a steep mountain to climb.
Fast forward to today. Sam just emailed me to tell me he will pay for the dispensers, so whoop, whoop we're on our way! I don't have to have that tough conversation with my boss. It will probably take a few weeks to get this done but Koch Industries is out of here!
Thanks for reading.
Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 4:10 PM PT: Thanks for all rec's and comments. Just to clarify before Sam notified me that he would pay for the dispensers, I had decided to have that tough conversation with my boss because it was the right thing to do. He allows me to choose which vendors I order from as long as the products are high quality and competitively priced. The rub would have been spending money on new dispensers. Another point is that when you are dealing with paper products most of the industry has ecological problems, and I understand that any new company we end up using will not be fault free. I will do my best to make sure that the ownership is at least not taking such an activist posture in the political arena to destroy our democracy and our planet. And finally, yes, I am very grateful to Sam and will continue our company's close relationship with him.
Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 12:29 PM PT: My response to a commenter who defined my boss as a "jerk."
I too sometimes think he is a "jerk." After all, he is a Republican and he is an enabler for those addicted to Koch and their anti-democracy agenda, and he supported the neocons' adventures in nation building, and he spouted the party line on Obamacare. So yeah, on that stuff, and it is critical stuff, he is a "jerk."
But when the economy was tanking, against stiff resistance from the board, he raised everyone's wages, increased the company's contribution to healthcare from 50% to 80%, and lowered the benefits participation hours from 40 to 32 per week. When employees have become gravely ill and were no longer able to work, he has without fanfare, paid them their full salary and maintained all their benefits so they could end their lives with dignity. When my wife became critically ill and I was basically raising our girls by myself while working full time plus 15 hours/week doing music on the side, he gave me free onsite childcare for three years.
Again contrary to the board's wishes, he dedicated a significant portion of our facility to special needs populations, who wouldn't normally have access to a place like ours at no cost, in partnership with hospitals and universities, to the extent that we have been featured for this work on ABC and CBS and he has been asked to speak across the country and even internationally about our trail blazing programs.
He is a contradiction, a victim of, and a testament to his upbringing. He has a blind spot. He sees all the bad things in government but not the good, he champions the superiority of the private sector, doesn't admit that the private sector is even more inept and evil. I truly believe his mission in life is to prove that the private sector will always out perform government both fiscally and ethically. He is wrong or course, but there you have the bitter irony. It's just not that simple.