Nancy Lien Griffin had an opportunity recently that most lumberyard owners never get a chance to do: speak with the president of the United States.
Griffin, owner and president of Madison Lumber Co. in Ennis, Mont., was called upon by President Barack Obama during Obama's Aug. 14 town hall visit to Belgrade, Mont. The meeting focused on health care reform, and reform was on the mind of Griffin, who was singled out when the president noticed the large black cowboy hat she was wearing.
"I stood seven feet away from the president of the United States and I looked directly into his eyes, and at least for 60 seconds he cared about what I had to say," Griffin told ProSales in an interview today.
During her exchange, Griffin managed to make the president to chuckle a few times, especially when she referred to her employees as "peeps."
"Is that a Montana phrase?," Obama asked with a laugh.
But Griffin was there to get down to business, particularly former employees with zero health coverage. Although she felt as if she were the winning contestant on a game show when picked by the president, Griffin realized a serious topic was at hand and she had an opportunity to speak for the state and the industry.
Griffin focused on COBRA replacement health care, a program that permits people to continue buying the coverage they had before they were laid off. Given the economy's downturn, Madison Lumber was forced to reduce its workforce from 11 employees to six in the last year. When Griffin researched replacement health care coverage for her former employees, she found out that COBRA does not apply to Madison Lumber since the dealer has less than 20 employees.
"And that conservatively affects 80% of all workers in Montana," Griffin said to the president. "So (my former employees) are pretty much on their own."
Griffin kicked the exchange up a notch when she compared her poor coverage to that secured by "an employer with 30 employees who sit in cubicles on their butts instead of working them off--and gets a better rate."
While the comment drew a laugh from Obama, he noted that "we want small businesses to buy into the exchange."
"One of the things that we're trying to do is give a substantial subsidy to help small businesses allow their employees to get health insurance, because there are a lot of employers just like you who want to do the right thing, but they're a small shop, they're operating on small margins, they've got no leverage with the insurance companies," Obama told Griffin and the audience in attendance. (Click here for a transcript of the meeting.)
Griffin says she was more than satisfied with her answer from the president.
"I was thrilled that he knew about the limitations of COBRA; there were officials in my state that didn't know what COBRA was," Griffin told ProSales>.. "The fact that he was aware of it was something in itself."
Another thrill came when Comedy Central cable TV's "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" picked up the clip of Griffin interacting with the president, Griffin says. The clip aired on Aug. 17.