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In Wisconsin, Prison Labor Replaces Unions

In Wisconsin, Prison Labor Replaces Unions

Thanks to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) prison chain gangs are no longer a thing of the past.  After successfully ramming through legislation that dismantles almost all collective bargaining rights for civil servants, Walker has now turned to prisoners to fill jobs that used to be held by unionized workers.

According to the Madison Capital Times, part of Gov. Walker’s bill strips unions of the right to claim certain work as a “union only” job.  As a result inmates have been able to step in and fill what used to be good-wage jobs not for pay, but for time off of their sentences.

Racine County took advantage of this measure almost immediately, using inmates for landscaping, painting, and other basic maintenance around the county that had previously been done by county workers.  Just last year the union had successfully sued to prevent the county from using prison labor in lieu of unionized county workers, but under Walker’s law the union no longer has the right to challenge the move.

This development illustrates how sticky these measures are going to be.  Prisoners should have the opportunity to work and develop or maintain skills if we hope for rehabilitation.  And obviously paying someone nothing to do work is more affordable to the taxpayer than paying another a good wage.

But this sets up a race to the bottom.  Public sector jobs will no longer benefit the public but instead the private prison industry providing the labor.  Wages drop and more citizens become part of the working poor.

The move also muddies up traditional labor protections that union jobs guaranteed.  With municipalities enjoying a shield of qualified immunity from suit, what happens should a prisoner be injured on the job?  How is treatment for those injuries compensated and what happens should a prisoner become permanently disabled in such an accident?  The fact that these questions are even again relevant should signal why unions remain critical to the stability and success of the middle class.

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Photo from TheGiantVermin via flickr.

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189 comments

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10:03AM PDT on May 17, 2013

Agree with Ira H. comments 100%. In addition, these programs will cut spending in the CJ system, which will put money back into Wisconsin, create more jobs and possibly reduce recidivism by teaching work ethic. It will hopefully remind people that when they go to prison, this is what you will get and maybe think twice about committing the crime...I think Wisconsin should additionally implement "pay to stay" to further relieve taxpayers of prison costs. Try to see the big picture!!

12:40AM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

Isn't my governor wonderful? Criminals get to have jobs to pay their way, yet, my neighbors can't get a job mowing lawns on abandoned or repossessed home properties, because those got given to the rapists, thieves, etc...

Governor Stalker promised us 250,000 new jobs, yet honest citizens of Wisconsin are losing theirs so that a murderer can be the crew leader when he's deemed "rehabilitated" enough to join society... Utopia at it's best, right? NOT!!!

4:51PM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

The only way that the American worker can compete for jobs is to work for the same pay as they do in third world countries. So sorry people that means no more education for your children unless you learn the ABE Lincoln way. unless you own your house outright you may as well get ready to live in cardboard boxes, because you cannot afford your automobile. Maybe you can get yourself arrested and go to jail so that you can eat. Michelle Bachman thinks that there should be no such thing as a minimum wage requirement. Then employers could pay you whatever they want and you can take it or leave it. By the way who is going to buy those manufactured products when corporations have succeeded in destroying the majority of the American people.

4:37PM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

I cannot understand how they think that hiring prisonors will help the economy in the long run. Even with thier 25 cents an hour just how much are they going to pay in taxes? How is thier purchasing power going to be a boost to the economy? They are taking good jobs away from men and women who are trying to educate thier children and earn a decent living. Just what do they think is going to happen to the economy when there are no jobs and hospitals are overloaded in the emergency room with people dying because they had no insurance. How many people will be living in cardboard boxes because they couldn't make payments on thier car. Republicans and corporations are trying to make slaves of all of us. Talk about crime rates going up.

6:10PM PDT on Jul 12, 2011

Not a great idea. Get him to see a good shrink before putting out prison help. Can you say escape could happen a bit more often with them out for whole days?

4:32PM PDT on Jul 12, 2011

Governor Walker should be careful he doesn't become a prisoner himself. Now that's real!

3:18AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

I think that there are points that are missed.
1. The privately owned jails are paid a profit by the state for running the jail. This was based of normal wages to state workers. This does not need to be paid to workers and increases the profit of the jail owners.
2. Convict/unpaid labour is sold to do jobs for private industry. This generates more profit for the jail owners.
This means that jail owners are double dipping. This does not lower costs or recoup monies but in fact costs jobs and does not give give the tax payers any relief.

Could there be some form of corruption that needs investigation? Who is making money from it? is there a link to the legislators? Hmm.

Now lets look at why the convicts are in jail - oh yes they are criminals. they were convicted of a crime and their sentence is the time necessary to serve. So reducing the sentence to profit the corporate jail owners.....Hmm...

So lets recap. there is no real savings to the state, More profit for the Jail owners. Lesser sentence tor the criminals and less jobs for the honest people. Yes good idea all in favour? Oh you can't vote for it as it was pushed through without public approval? Democracy in Action.

I am fully in favour of convicts working in some form of industry with training that will offset their costs. Teaching a trade and breaking the cycle of lack of education/poverty/crime would benefit not just the tax payer but society as a whole. However you cannot do it at the expense of work

12:09AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

In Maine, kids can work whatever hours they want and are encouraged by the Governor! In Wisconsin, prisoners are taking jobs from the community. And whenever possible, all companies are shipping jobs out of the country.....all to enhance profits for a few at the expense of everyone else. Just who do the corporate owners think will be able to buy what they are selling when people cannot work for a decent wage. I really can't believe what is happening to our country.

10:03PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Heaven forbid, we have gone from using a convict to do minimal jobs, to taking work so Corporations can move over seas? The idea of convict labor has been working for over 50 years in the states of Oregon and Washington, both heavy Union States and we do not hear all this nonsense out here. Maybe the Unions have not figured it out that they should not be taking taxpayer money to do a job when the job can be done by someone that is already costing the taxpayer money. Any dollar the State can save, will also benefit all the taxpayers, however, the most money moving into the state coffers should be from the Private source. I agree we need to have a business conference and discuss the movement of jobs over seas, is it due to 1) America workers need too high a wage? 2) is the overseas job closer to the raw material they need? 3) is the product produced closer to the market it will be use in? 4) Is the land value the problem? 5) are we taxing the corporations out of our country? 6) Are we not training our young employees to fit t he corpoarte jobs? 7) Is it becasue we have too high of entitlements by our Union? 8) Other As you can see there are a multitude of things to look at, and just crying over a company leaving will not solve the solutions, we must find middle ground, and negotiate if we want the Corporations to remain. If we do not and we listen to our non-president, then we will become a second class country.

8:22PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Well, if you think the answer is entrepreneurship, I can tell you, Walker is not your guy. He screwed the craft brewers who are all local wisconsin small business owners. And he sold them out for the giant part of a megacorp breweries from out of state.

I'm a high school teacher. I know kids that have gone to start up charters, if you think I should start my own high school "business". The kids call them "boot-leg schools". They don't always provide transcripts, if you do transfer back to a real school, your credits won't and any diplomas given out are not accepted by colleges or employers. But I don't WANT to run a school. I want to TEACH in one, working with my special ed kids, who I love teaching. All of us can't run our own business.

People aren't just talking about "bad jobs", either, though these days ANY job is better than none. I saw a mid-30s college degreed guy pushing carts in the Target parking lot. But no, people are saying have them do roadwork and such. You want to drive over a bridge that a 25-cents-an-hour convict built? I know I don't.

The bottom line is that the corporations/CEOs have figured out there's something better than sweat-shop labor in a foreign country, and that's slave labor on American soil. And Wisconsin did NOT have a deficit. Walker created the deficit in his first month in office.

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