Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Seattle Community College teachers urge board to buy ethically; cut ties with Bank of America, Georgia Pacific

by February 9th, 2012

The meeting this afternoon of the Seattle Community College District Board of Trustees will be preceded by a study session in which officials will begin to publicly mull a request from the teachers union to adopt a socially-responsible purchasing policy and cut ties with two major SCCD vendors reviled by many Seattle progressives.

A local unit of the American Federation of Teachers which represents SCCD instructors is pressuring the board to adopt a “socially responsible purchasing policy” that among other things would sever current business ties with the Bank of America and the Georgia Pacific paper company owned by the prominent national conservative political funders the Koch brothers. The district operates three community colleges in Seattle – North, South, and Central, and a satellite program at the Seattle Vocational institute.

AFT Seattle Local 1789 President Karen Strickland at the board’s meeting last month presented to the SCCD board a resolution the bargaining unit adopted in December urging the system’s trustees to formally spell out “union-friendly, local and socially responsible” criteria for the companies with which they will and will not do business. It is titled “Resolution in Support of Business Practices Congruent with the Message of the Occupy Movement.”

It makes a sharp attack on Bank of America’s alleged role in perpetuating income inequalities and highlights reports BofA has avoided corporate taxes. The resolution also states that the Koch Brothers have an “extensive record of funding organizations, legislation and candidates” who seek to “end collective bargaining rights, privatize education, reduce support for student grants and loans, and end affirmative action and aid to underserved students…”

At present the community college district – which operates South Seattle, North Seattle, and Seattle Central community colleges and the Institute for Vocation Studies has no purchasing policy. It “does contract with Bank of America for banking services” but investments are made through a state-managed local government pool and government bonds, said SCC Communications Director Patricia Paquette. The district buys a high volume of products from Georgia Pacific through regional distributors, about 80 percent of it toilet paper and bathroom roll towels. Both Chancellor jill Wakefield and Board President Dr. Constance Rice declined to comment on the substance of the union’s resolution. Rice said the board needs time first to discuss and consider the proposal, and that the administration will need to talk to its purchasing agents and the district’s Chief Financial Officer Alan Ward about the implications of any new purchasing guidelines.

Strickland said Occupy Seattle encampment and protests at Seattle Central led the union to adopt the resolution. The district “should at least consider” closing its accounts with BofA and moving them to a credit union or another bank that meets the criteria of a new buying policy, although it might be “a long shot,” Strickland said. A senior vice-president for Bank of America, Stan Diddams, sits on the board of the Foundation for Seattle Community Colleges.

Of the district’s board of trustees, Strickland added, “I do think they might be open to developing some socially responsible business practices” and that because part of the district’s mission is to facilitate access to economic opportunity for those who lack it, the district should articulate an ethical code applied to its vendors. The union’s resolution states the board in six months from December should “report back on progress made” in developing a socially responsible purchasing policy. It adds that the resolution was to have been forwarded to student governments in the district plus county and state labor councils for possible adoption and advocacy.

The board of trustees study session starts at 3 p.m. today in the board room of the district office, 1500 Harvard Ave., Seattle. The review of district purchasing policies is scheduled for 3:30. The regular board meeting begins at 4 p.m.

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