Date: Tue, 19 Dec 1995 20:13:04 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
From: Bob Witanek <>
Subject: Prison Labor, Prison Blues
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <>

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Date: Sat, 16 Dec 1995 13:58:13 -0600
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: Prison Labor

Prison Labor, Prison Blues

AFL-CIO Label Letter, [16 December 1995]

Tens of thousands of state and federal prisoners being paid minimum or sub-minimum wages generated more than $1 billion a year in sales last year for private businessmen—often in direct competition with private sector workers.

And it’s getting worse. By the year 2000, according to the Correctional Industries Association, a full 30 percent of the state and federal inmate population will work, yielding $8.9 billion in sales for those who control their labor.

An investigative report on the scandal, Prison Labor/Prison Blues, was put together by the We Do The Work television show. Airing on Public Broadcasting Corporation stations beginning in March (see listing, p. X), the show cites union and business leaders’ concerns that the cheap source of labor undercuts other business and is unfair competition for job seekers on the outside.

The report describes some personal nightmares for workers who find themselves in competition with what could fairly be termed slave labor. And with Republicans pushing for $10 billion in new prison construction, things are likely to get even uglier than they already are.

Some horror stories from Prison Labor/Prison Blues:

While supporting opportunities for prisoners to learn useful trades, organized labor has condemned the use of convict labor in private sector jobs.

The TV report also documents how things can be done right -- like the story of San Quentin prisoner Casey Hayhurst, who participated in a training program administered by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551 and landed a good job in a union shop ten days after his release.


‘Convicts R Us’

-- Part I --

The Toys R Us store in Aurora, Ill., suspended at least temporarily its use of state-prison labor on its night shift after two unions in the area objected and mounted a highly publicized boycott of the nonunion toy-store-chain outlet.

The unions—Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 and Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 701—charged that the use of prison labor denied job opportunities to law abiding citizens in an area with high unemployment. It also gave the store an unfair advantage because the prisoners require no benefits. They also criticized the store’s failure to inform customers about its use of prison labor.

The unions challenged management claims that no one else wanted the jobs and that the prisoners only worked when the store was closed, stocking shelves and cleaning, and never came into contact with shoppers. The unions reported seeing inmate-workers there as late as noon.

A representative of the UFCW Local said the store did not hire any replacements when it suspended use of convicts and the expectation was that prison-labor would be returned sometime after the Nov. 8 elections.