Letters and documents regarding the cold, cruel, and heartless treatment of the poor by Oklahoma Natural Gas Corporation, a subsidiary of ONEOK, Inc.
Letter to ONG Letter to the Corporation Commission
Text of the original flyer, handed out December 1999 - January 2000 Conversation Notes, March 1, 2000 with the Director of the Consumer Services Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission
UPDATE, from the OKC Catholic Worker newspaper (internet edition), June 2000. Extracts from an email sent Dec. 1, 2000 to a ONEOK board member

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For other energy conservation tips, check out our Better Times Energy Conservation Page.  See also Gatewood Urban Homestead, the permaculture design for our home. Because of the immoral acts of ONG, we cut off our gas service in 2005 after remodeling our house --
+ 9 inches insulation in the walls, 14 in the attic,
+ r-20 interior insulated window shutters and doors shuuters,
+ South facing solar sun porch
+ wood burning stove,

Our quality of life has increased greatly since we stopped doing business with the immoral corporation ONG and its parent ONEOK.

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February 1, 2000

Edmund J. Farrell, President

Oklahoma Natural Gas

POB 401

Oklahoma City, OK 73101-0401

Dear Mr. Farrell:

A friend has given me a copy of a response you sent to her letter expressing concern about ONG's behavior towards the poor (her letter was sent after she read an article in our newsletter, the Oklahoma City Catholic Worker). Since you have given us no response to our campaign, even though we have sent you copies of our flyers and newsletter, and I spoke with four different representatives of ONG about this issue, I would like to respond to your letter to her.

Regarding the "motivations behind that campaign" not being clear to you, our actions are rooted in our Christian commitment to solidarity with the poor. This includes considerable personal experience with poverty here in Oklahoma, and knowledge of many specific instances of problems that your company has caused to poor people here in Oklahoma.

When I speak of your company being a "thug" to the poor, well, that has been my experience with your corporation, and I have heard this from many other people. One of them is an 81 year old woman living alone whose gas has been shut off so long that her pipes have deteriorated to the point that she can't have her gas turned on. I guess your employees who are "trained to spot elderly at risk people living alone" failed to notice her. I have heard about this problem with natural gas pipes from several people whose service had been disconnected for several months. Is there a technical reason for this? Do natural gas pipes begin deteriorating when the service is turned off?

Your surprise that anyone could think your corporation "cold, cruel, and heartless" is indicative of your lack of understanding regarding the realities of poverty in this state. Perhaps you should consider doing some market research among the poorest of the poor. We did a little of this for you as we passed out several hundred of our flyers at the Martin Luther King Day parade (unscientific and anecdotal of course, but reasonably random). As we were handing them out, many people would ask us, "What is this about?" We answered, "We're trying to get ONG to give the poor a break." The universal response was derisive laughter.

Regarding the "isolated" nature of our campaign, you are free to marginalize us by whatever methods keep you comfortable, and certainly, I am nobody of any importance, status, or consequence. Even so, I intend to be very tenacious in expressing love for you and concern about your behavior towards the poor of this community. I have no particular animus against your corporation, I hope you do have values of compassion and concern. I'm sorry if you are offended by shouting, but it is a long way from where we are to where you are, and communications between the poor and people like you don't work very well these days.

You say: "There are instances in which individuals with unpaid accounts attempt to obtain gas service elsewhere by asking a relative or friend to apply on their behalf. In those situations we do ask that past bills be paid before new service is initiated at another address."

This isn't what we have been talking about in our flyers. Let me share a specific example with you. Last December, I found three women with two small children living in a tent in a vacant lot. I called around and found enough money to get them a trailer. But your company would not turn on the gas, because one of the women -- not the woman who was applying for service -- owed ONG an outstanding bill.

So in fact, if a household applies for natural gas service, and any member of that household owes ONG money, you won't turn on the gas. I spoke with four different representatives of ONG about this situation, and that is what I was told. This is not a situation where a third party, not resident in the house, was applying for service on behalf of somebody who owed you a bill (which is what you talk about in your response). This is 3 women with 2 small children doing what poor people often do, which is combine resources, and your company holding four of them, including the two small children, hostage for payment of the bill owed by one of the women. This is manifestly unjust, especially when committed by a rich, powerful -- and legally privileged -- corporation against homeless people. If this is not your company's procedure, then you need to do a better job of training your customer service representatives., because I talked with four different representatives of ONG about this and they all said the same thing.

As a result of your refusal to provide gas service to this household, one of the women (the mother of the 2 small children) returned to an abusive common law relationship because, as she said, "At least my kids will be warm." We can all disagree with her choice, but then, who are we to judge her? Everybody reading this letter goes home to a warm house at night. Some of the people reading this have perhaps never personally known somebody in that kind of desperate situation. So consider this a small "reality check" as to the consequences of your corporate policies.

You could afford to provide natural gas service to those poor women. They had the money you were demanding up front for your $60 deposit, one of them had a job, the second was looking for work, and the third (the mother) was applying for government assistance. Your actions in this case were cold, cruel, and heartless. You did not show compassion to these women and the children. You acted like an abusive thug to them, violating the equal protection rights of four human beings because a fifth owed you money. As the prophet Isaiah said a long time ago, "What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding down the poor when they look to you?"

You say you don't turn the gas off when the "current temperature is below freezing or the overnight low is predicted to be 20 degrees or lower." But Oklahoma's weather in the winter is quite variable. You may not do any turnoffs during our recent snow storm, but how many people did you cut off on previous days when the temperature was in the 40s and 50s? And here in a week or two, as the weather warms up a bit, you'll be out cutting people off again, and what happens to them if the weather gets cold after that?

You mention your "Share the Warmth" program. I'd invite you to declare how much corporate money (as opposed to money that is actually donated by your customers for which you seem to be taking moral credit) goes to non-profit agencies for the purpose of helping the poor pay their natural gas bills. The way I read your response, and the materials you provide about the Share the Warmth program, you don't actually provide any corporate money to non-profit agencies to pay the gas bills of the poor, unless some of the money donated by your employees (and matched by your corporation) happens to be applied to such programs by the agencies receiving them.

You say: "What we do is the best measure of who we are." I certainly agree. But if you don't want people to say that ONG is a thug to the poor, then you're going to have to stop being a thug to the poor. I know many people who have borrowed money at 240% per annum interest (at pawnshops) in order to pay your bills because your company wouldn't extend the bill payment date by a few days. There are many charitable agencies that pay thousands of dollars a year to your company on the gas bills of poor people. So whatever it is you claim you are doing to help the poor cope with your high prices is obviously not enough.

You close with your personal assurance that you have values of "concern and compassion." I would like to believe this, but concern and compassion call us to listen to what the poor are saying to us. In December, you helped a young woman decide that living in sin with an abusive man was an attractive option. This hardly seems to me like a shining example of compassion, concern, and good corporate citizenship. "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2, 14-17.

I encourage you to conduct a strict examination of conscience at ONG about the impact of your policies and procedures on the poor of this community. Rather than assuming that you already have the "best of all corporations," why not try to become better? An insert in my most recent ONG bill says that nobody benefits when service is cut off. In the case I mention above, instead of receiving revenue from that property, you are receiving nothing. You put two small children (ages 1 and 3) at risk, and increased the amount of human misery in this community, all for the sake of an old bill amounting to $230. Your best bet of recovering that bill was turning on the service at that residence, and then working with those people on that old bill, perhaps spreading the payments over a year's period of time. You would have received better-than-market-rate interest on your money, their bill would have been paid, your stockholders would make money, your bad debt load would be reduced, and people wouldn't be thinking badly of you and running around town distributing flyers calling you "cold, cruel, and heartless".

Oppression of the poor is like slavery and racial discrimination, in the long run, however attractive the short-term benefits may be, it always costs money, hurts the economy, and damages the community in many tragic ways. It is also a mortal sin that offends God and results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1861).

Pending news about changes in the way you do business, we will continue to exercise our civil and religious rights to educate the public about this issue, to call you to public accountability for your actions that harm this community, and also to encourage you to adopt a better standard of behavior towards the poor. We pray God's blessings for you, the members of the Board of Directors of ONEOK, and your employees. "Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will themselves also call and not be heard." (Proverbs 21:13)

Sincerely,

Bob Waldrop

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, 1524 NW 21st, Oklahoma City, OK 73106

http://www.justpeace.org, 405-557-0436

cc: Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Members of the Board of Directors, ONEOK, Inc.

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February 1, 2000

Oklahoma Corporation Commission

POB 52000-2000

Oklahoma City, OK 73152-2000

Dear Commissioners,

Attached is correspondence I have sent to Oklahoma Natural Gas regarding a specific incident that I am aware of in which they denied service to people that we were attempting to help (I found 3 women with 2 small children living in a tent in a vacant lot southeast of downtown in December 1999). I would like to know if ONG's actions in this matter were in accordance with approved procedures. If not, what can be done about this to make sure it does not happen again?

I also invite you to examine your conscience regarding the impact of the actions of your Commission on the poor and working classes of this state. As noted in the letter to Mr. Farrell, oppression of the poor is not only against the Word of God, it is also bad for the economy and damages the community in many ways.

While I would be happy to talk to somebody from your office on the phone about this, I would also like to request a written response.

Sincerely,

Bob Waldrop

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House

1524 NW 21st, Oklahoma City, OK 73106, 405-557-0436, http://www.justpeace.org

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The original flyer we handed out around the ONG building in downtown OKC and at the Martin Luther King Day parade. Note: the formatting didn't transfer well, but the text is there.

Oklahoma Natural Gas

Cold. Cruel. Heartless.

NO MERCY!

This Christmas, there is NO ROOM for the poor at the ONG Inn.

As you enjoy your warm house, say a prayer for those who are having a cold Christmas because ONG puts profits before people and has no mercy for the poor. This wealthy corporate citizen is a major contributor to homelessness in Oklahoma and they are draining resources from charitable agencies involved with front-line direct service to the poor. When you are a big rich energy corporation with the right political connections, you can be a thug to the poor and most people just plain don't care.

But God does care. He listens to those who are cold this winter because they can't afford natural gas service. God does not turn His back on those who are poor, nor does he put profits over people. "What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding down the poor when they look to you? says the LORD, the God of Hosts." Isaiah 3:15

Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will themselves also call and not be heard.

Proverbs 21:13

A seasonal greeting from the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, http://www.justpeace.org, 405-557-0436.

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Summary of my notes about my telephone conversation of March 1, 2000 with Mr. Bill Burnet, Director of the Consumer Services Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission:

Bob (that's me) said, "Don't you think denying an entire household gas service because one person in the household owes ONG money violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution?

Mr. Burnett said: "The Constitution doesn't apply to the Corporation Commission.

So Bob said, "What about what God says in the Bible about protecting the poor?"

Mr. Burnett: "The Bible doesn't apply to the Corporation Commission."

And so I said, "But it says 'Defend the lowly and the fatherless."

And the consumer protection guy said (in a very disgusted tone of voice): "You keep your religious views to yourself."

So I said, "Hang on a minute while i write this down. You're saying that neither the Constitution nor the Bible apply to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission."

He said, "Don't you try to intimidate me by writing down what I say. But yes, that is what I am saying, neither the Constitution nor the Bible apply to the Corporation Commission. We have nothing to do with protecting the poor, that's the job of the dept of human services."

If I wanted further details, he said I could come to their office and buy a copy of their rules. He confirmed that the actions of ONG in regard to the three homeless women I was trying to help were in accordance with Corporation Commission rules and regulations. He said, "We have to treat everyone alike."

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Extracts from an email I sent to Dr. Doug Newsom, of the ONEOK board of directors, December 1, 2000.

Dr. Newsom,

. . . If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that that there is enough money to help these people and that people are simply having problems connecting with the services. I am telling you, and I will continue to tell you, if necessary I will bring people down to TCU and shout this news at you from across the street: there aren't enough resources available to help all of those deserving of and needing emergency assistance with utility problems.

Further, your corporate policies are making this bad situation worse. . . .

. . . My use of the term "duh" didn't mean it was a useless suggestion, but rather that we already know about putting plastic over windows and we didn't invite two senior reps from ONG to tell us what we already knew. See http://www.justpeace.org/warmth.htm for the online version of a pamphlet I have written on "keeping the heat". We put them in every bag of food we hand out, and it may be reprinted by anyone. Several SVDP groups are handing these out. . .

My feelings about your Share the Warmth program, which are that it falls way short of the minimum that is required for any claim to "good corporate citizenship" by ONEOK and ONG, should be well known to you by now. You seem to think somebody notified me about your weatherization materials distribution, but your reps at our meeting didn't tell us the time, date, or place, and I didn't hear those details until after the event.

Regarding public programs for weatherization assistance, please note that the waiting time is currently estimated at one year, or so I've heard. . .

. . . I have no objection to y'all making an honest profit, but profits resulting from grinding the faces of the poor into the dust are not honest, especially when they result from clever manipulation of the political system. Your third quarter profits were up 460% over last year, and your second quarter profits were up 186% over the previous year. The ONEOK contribution of $50,000, which is the figure you told me. . . appears to me to be .005% of the $100 million of net income for the first nine months of the year 2000, or one tenth of one cent per diluted share. If you had doubled your contribution during that period, earnings per diluted share would have been reduced from $2.04 to $2.039.

The actual reduction would be even less, since you would recover some of it in the form of tax deductions for charitable contributions. Are your stockholders so greedy that they would begrudge this to the poor? Corporations are not exempt from the demands of the Gospel, and helping the poor meet the needs of their existence during the depths of winter is not charity, but rather a matter of justice and solidarity.

The limitation of liability provided by your corporate shield extends only to temporal matters of financial and criminal liability, there is no such thing as a limitation on the moral liability for stockholders or directors that you incur for your operations that negatively impact the poor.

The commands of God regarding justice and mercy to the poor are not unique to Christianity, but rather are common to all of the world religions. You don't satisfy those demands by tossing a coin out the window after your speeding carriage has run roughshod over a child in the street.

Even from a secular business point of view, your posture vis a vis the poor is needlessly hostile. Your business practices promote an adversarial relationship between your corporation and people of limited economic means. If indeed deregulation is coming, and if it becomes as easy to switch gas companies as it is to switch phone companies, I expect that you will lose a lot of customers -- people who have bad memories of harsh treatment courtesy of your corporate business practices.

If indeed you have an ethical obligation to your stockholders (to make a profit), why are you needlessly alienating a huge number of customers in this area? If people start selling their ONEOK stock because of concerns regarding your actions towards the poor, how does this benefit your corporation? . . .

. . . What do you suggest that we do with all of the other people we can't help? I agree, nobody should get left behind, but that's not an option. I have to deal with the real world, not somebody's fantasy world where all deserving poor people receive all the help they need.

This winter, some families in Oklahoma City will get left behind for the wolves. You seem unable or unwilling to believe this, but that's a fact of life in this Jubilee Holy Year 2000. Your organization is in full blown denial regarding the role of your structures in making the situation of poor people in Oklahoma City more desperate and grim. . . .

. . .Food is another local crisis, the greater OKC foodbank has been cutting monthly allocations for the food that groups are allowed to buy for their foodbanks. Yet, requests everywhere are up. The hypothesis. . . is that people are dipping into food money for gasoline and utility payments.

We had so many requests for food before Thanksgiving that two days before the holiday I had to put a message on our phone line saying, "We are sorry to say that we are out of food, and also have no funds for rental or utility assistance."

I am continuing to pray for ONG, ONEOK, its stockholders and directors. . . We will continue to publicly call the stockholders and directors of ONG and ONEOK to accountability for their oppressive actions towards the poor of this area until such time as those oppressive actions cease.

If you are claiming that cruel and unusual regulations such as the roommate rule, or the short periods of time that you allow people to pay out their bills, are necessary for the healthy profitability of your corporation, you should make the calculations and records public that prove there would be a significant impact on your profitability if these policies were changed.

"Why Lord, do you stand at a distance, and pay no heed to these troubled times? Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor, they trap them by their cunning schemes. The wicked even boast of their greed, these robbers curse and scorn the Lord. . .

"The helpless are crushed, laid low, they fall into the power of the wicked, who say in their hearts: 'God pays no attention, shows no concern, never bothers to look.'

"Rise up, Lord God! Raise your arm! Do not forget the poor! Why should the wicked scorn God, say in their hearts, 'God doesn't care'?

But you do see, you do observe this misery and sorrow, you take the matter in hand. To you the helpless can entrust their cause, you are the defender of orphans. . .

You win justice for the orphaned and oppressed, no one on earth will cause terror again." From Psalm 11

On the memorial of Charles de Foucald, founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, and the commemoration of the Refusal of Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus,

Robert Waldrop

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Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City

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