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.

Photo from TheGiantVermin via flickr.


Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

So, if we don't have prisoners work, what exactly do we have them do with their time? Sit around watching cable; running a drug empire; ramping up gang activity? many of the prisoners being taken in have no marketable skills whatsoever once they get out. So we need to give them something to do that will offer them the chance of employment once released, or we're just setting up a rotating turnstyle.

Mitchell D.
Mitchell D3 years ago

Walker, and the Repigs of Wisconsin, have found a way to stop unions, one of the larger sources of campaign contributions to Democrats (FOLLOW THE MONEY!) while putting people who would tend to vote for Democrats behind bars, out of the electoral process!
And, this bastard keeps getting elected...DUH!

Deb N.
Deb N.4 years ago

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!!

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

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!!!

Mary V.
Mary Vaughn6 years ago

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.

Mary V.
Mary Vaughn6 years ago

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.

Lin Moy
Lin M6 years ago

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?

Jimmy Armstrong
James A6 years ago

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

Ira Herson
Ira Herson6 years ago

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

Marty P.
Marty rajandran6 years ago

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.