Their reputation is starting to precede them.
Joyce and Karen Koch, aka the "Koch Sisters," (not related to each other but sisters where it counts) came to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with lawmakers to talk about working families' issues—and several taxi drivers, members of Teamsters, were thrilled when the sisters hailed down their cab after seeing their commercials on MSNBC.
The AFL-CIO sat down with the Koch Sisters to ask them about their visit to Washington, D.C., and the issues that drove them to stand up to the billionaire brothers who share their last name. Unlike the Koch brothers, though, the Koch Sisters aren't trying to buy democracy and subvert the rights of working families.
Q: What is your background with unions and labor rights? What got you into this area of interest?
Karen: I am a member of the MEA, and it's the Michigan Education Association, and also the NEA, National Education Association, my mother was a Teamster, my father was UAW. So I've had a lot of experience with unions.
Joyce: My husband is and has been a member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), through NYSUT [New York State United Teachers] in New York state for many years, so I am union family member.
Q: What got you interested in workers' rights?
Karen: When I was in college, I belonged to the Restaurant Workers Association, because I was a waitress, and one of the nice things was I got minimum wage plus tips. It made a big difference in my ability to pay for college. They also provided us hand sanitation stations, things that perhaps were required by law, but they made it so it would be a very safe environment.
Joyce: My husband, as a union teacher, was a union rep, and I saw the struggle that they sometimes had in the difficult years for getting the things that they wanted for teachers. I worked in the non-profit world and did not experience the benefits that he had as a union teacher. I certainly did not have the defined pension and some of the other benefits that would have been wonderful to have.
Karen: Another benefit that I adore is my union allows us to have paid sick days. It makes a big difference in the health of the workplace, where people know that if they are very sick, they don’t have to come into work and get everyone else sick.
Q: What are some other issues that you think about a lot or are very important to you personally?
Karen: The things that are very important to me are the environment, and the Koch brothers are not very good stewards of our environment. Another one is I'm very concerned about people, the working class, not getting enough money to get ends meet, they can work a full 40-hour week and still be in poverty. Certainly Social Security is an issue. If you mess with our Social Security or you mess with our Medicare, it's going cause problems for all of us, not only the seniors, but also for the younger people. If your parents don’t have enough money, you're going to pitch in the money in order to do it. The biggest one is buying our government.
Joyce: In coming to Washington for this campaign, if one looks at the Koch brothers, there is such a list of concerns that one doesn't know where to begin. You could begin with them buying politicians through their many diverse groups, their fronts, where many citizens don’t even know that the Koch brothers are involved, because it's not out there and not known. So they buy the politicians and then get the politicians to vote certain ways, so that's a concern. Voter registration, things that deny people the ability to vote. Schools, the privatization of schools. The environment, which is being decimated by some of their industries. I'm sure I'm missing some of the other things in the potpourri of the Koch Industries.
Q: What's one thing you would tell a person who has never heard of the Koch brothers?
Joyce: The Koch brothers are billionaires who think they can buy what they want that helps them with their beliefs and it doesn't help the majority of Americans—the working-class citizens.
Karen: We're trying to raise awareness about big money's ability to buy government policy decisions that shrink our middle class. These policy decisions cause significant problems for all of us. It causes problem with everything from crime to prison rates and it costs us more money in the end.
Q: What do you want people to know about the Koch brothers at the end of this campaign?
Karen: I hope they realize Koch money is paying to elect politicians that will give tax breaks to the very wealthy and allow corporations to rape our environment. And if you vote for those politicians, you are agreeing to a worse environment, worse education, a worsening Social Security, a worsening middle class and working class.
Joyce: I hope Americans will examine their products, their politicians, their causes and see if the Koch brothers are behind them, because if they are, it is probably bad news.
Q: Do you have any words of encouragement you can give to people on getting out to vote this election?
Karen: I strongly encourage people to vote, because if you can place your vote against wealthy businessmen who are being selfish, then you are placing your vote for kindness and humanity. Anything is better than the Koch politicians.
Joyce: Don't think your vote doesn't count, because it does. Educate yourself, make your own decision and vote, vote, vote. I don’t mean vote three times, but bring along a couple of friends!
Karen: And if you think you can’t go to the polls, vote early or vote absentee.
Editor's note: Check out http://go.aflcio.org/get-registered to make sure your friends and family are ready to vote this November.
Q: Where are you both from?
Karen: The Detroit area in Michigan.
Joyce: I recently moved to Lumberton, New Jersey.
Q: Is there anything else you want us to know about you?
Karen: I have two children that I hope to leave a decent society to. And a cleaner environment.
Joyce: I think people get worried about the world that is being left to the younger generations, but I’m an optimist, and I think we can all pull together and make sure that it is a better world.