Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slave Labor - Koch Links to Greenberg Traurig, Palin and the theft of our jobs!

With the tanking economy of late, many municipal, county and state authorities are looking for ways to reduce their budgets. At the top of the list of ways to save money is the replacement of civil service workers and contractors that traditionally maintain public buildings, facilities and grounds. While corporations try and hide their use of prison labor from their customers and consumers in general, politicians are trumpeting their reliance upon cheap slave labor provided by prisoners to reduce taxpayer funded jobs.

Today we have a situation where the new "slavery" is in fact the "old slavery" under a new name and with a diverse ethnic makeup. Before and during our civil war, slavery was the major cause of the secession of the Confederate states from the Union. Southern states wanted to continue to use humans as chattel and slave to work their fields, small industries and for other cheap labor. It is funded and supported by many within the Tea ("Traitors Enslaving Americans" thanks to the wife for this definition) Party and their funders.

Our nation fought a war over this concept that resulted in the loss of millions of American lives. Sadly slavery is still alive and well in the U.S. but it has had it's name changed since that dark time. Now it's called "prison labor" and has its roots in using prisoners to provide cheap - and in many instances, free - labor in many public sector areas. The use of this new form of slave labor is so profitable that in 1979 the U.S. Congress was swayed to enact legislation to allow private companies to use inmates in the manufacture of products or to provide their services. This is the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) and simply stated it exists to allow for the "training" of prisoners while incarcerated to make them more employable upon release back to their communities.

While this is a genuinely necessary and needed tool in reducing recidivism, as with most other programs or laws that have attracted the attention of corporate entrepreneurs and CEO's, those interested about this program began finding ways to participate and get free or cheap prison labor. They weren't satisfied with the mandatory requirements of the legislation, so they formed the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA, sort of their "union") to represent the themselves, participating corporations, prison industries and the vendors and suppliers involved in the PIE program. Then they managed to get the NCIA "chosen" as the enforcement and compliance arm of the program. Part of the compliance aspect is the "policy advisory" position, whereby the NCIA suggests amendments to or new policy initiatives to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the DOJ who actually have responsibility for the program.

Using their policy advisor position, participants have been able to overcome many of the mandatory sections of 18 USC 1761(c); reducing prevailing wages to minimum wage rates, prohibition of using training programs and setting "entry level" wages at below prevailing wages, worker's compensation and the requirement that packaging have clear markings identifying the shipper, consignee and the prison industry where the products were manufactured. In addition the corporations saw no reason why allowed deductions taken for room and board should be given to the states to offset the costs of incarceration paid for by taxpayers. They lobbied for and received state laws or regulations that allowed all that money to be retained by the prison industry that deducted the money from inmate wages, to use those funds to offset the costs of running the PIE program operations.

Today PIECP and prison labor bears no real resemblance to the program as it was enacted and the legislative intent behind the law. It has been so manipulated that any company wishing to make use of free or cheap prison labor can do so with little effort or public notoriety. I wrote last week about a situation in Montana whereby this program is being used to provide a financial advantage of one company over another by the use of prisoners paid between $2.00 and $7.00 per day. I now have a copy of the legislation proposed by Montana Congressman Ed Greef to address this situation there in Montana. Of course the Bill died after being tabled in the Judiciary Committee. Rep Greef (R) has probably drawn the ire from fellow Republicans by his presentation of this legislation that brought attention to the contract he wanted stopped and PIECP.

Also today we are faced with the situation in Wisconsin about right to work and union busting legislation offered up by the Republican majority and Governor Walker (a puppet with one or both of the Koch brother's hands up his ass). Wisconsin also enjoys a place within the PIECP program, having been certified in 1993 and currently certified as participating in the program. Many are not aware that the Junior Senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson (a Tea Party supported candidate) who beat Russ Feingold in the last election, himself uses prisoners in his privately owned and run businesses; Pacur Inc. and Dynamic Drinkware LLC, two companies run by Johnson. These companies employ up to nine inmates at a time through a state Corrections Department jobs program.

John McCain benefited from the use of prisoner labor during his campaign appearances in Alabama during the 2008 Presidential campaign.

Maybe now it is becoming clearer that many states and their politicians are actively pursuing replacing civilian workers with prison labor. Let's take a quick look at the evidence of this:

1) Georgia - Atlanta, Gwinnet and Clayton Counties.
"Clayton prison already sends about 180 prisoners per day out on work details, saving the county roughly $2.8 million a year – after housing and other costs are factored in – that it would otherwise spend on county payroll.

“It helps offset the costs of county government,” the warden said.

About a dozen inmates work for the Clayton County Water Authority, doing everything from grounds maintenance to equipment repair and maintenance, general manager Michael Thomas said.

The authority isn’t a county department, so it pays the county prison $30 a day for each inmate. Thomas said there are additional costs to supervise the inmates (none have escaped in the last five years said Smith), but it’s still worth it.

Each inmate costs half as much as a regular employee when such things as medical benefits are considered, Thomas estimated.

“Obviously, they’re a lot cheaper than hiring somebody,” Thomas said. “We’re always trying to squeeze a nickel. So it helps.”
2) New Jersey
"The Division of Corrections utilizes inmate labor in various work details to defray their cost of incarceration. Inmates are utilized in the jail laundry, kitchen and internal maintenance jobs. Inmates who are not security risks are also utilized on outside details such as mowing lawns, painting and other outside details as necessary.

"On May 13, 2008 the Division of Corrections instituted the Labor Assistance Program as an alternative sentencing option for qualified individuals. This program was designed to divert low risk offenders sentenced for motor vehicle violations, disorderly person’s offenses and non-violent crimes from the jail. All participants must undergo and pass a background clearance to be accepted into the program.

"Offenders sentenced to the Labor Assistance Program pay an application fee that defrays the cost of processing and a background check. In addition, participants are required to pay a per diem fee for each day of sentence.

"The Labor Assistance Program operates on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The program participants are required to report to the jail property at 7:45 am to prepare for the day's work and are returned by 3:30 pm to clean and put away any equipment used. All work details are supervised by an officer who directs the inmate work and insures compliance with all rules and regulations.

"Request for Labor Assistance are accepted for County Departments, Courts, Schools, Municipalities and their respective agencies as well as non-profit organizations within Hunterdon County.

"An online calendar has been set up from which you may view the types of work currently being done by the inmate work programs and request a work detail. All requests for work details must be scheduled through the online calendar using the “REQUEST WORK DETAIL” button located beneath Division’s Logo. You may access the calendar at the following web address:
3) Kansas -
"The Kansas Department of Corrections is considering putting inmates to work constructing low-income housing.

"He added that the type of housing inmates would build is not the kind being built by construction companies in Kansas right now. Instead, inmates would work on manufacturing homes inside the prison gates that would be sent out after completion.

“What has been under discussion previously has been building small, single family housing units,” Miskell said. “I’m not aware of anyone in Kansas in the private sector who is building these houses.”

"But Martha Smith, with the Kansas Manufactured Housing Association said they favor employing prisoners in work release programs while they serve their terms. A work release program would employ inmates within private industry instead of producing homes within prison walls.

“At this point in time with jobs so scare, there really isn’t a need for that kind of a program,” Smith said. “The work release program is a better program for everyone because it doesn’t take jobs away, it still provides training and if it works out, the prisoners have a job after they’re released,” Smith said.

"Last year, through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, inmates constructed small cabins that were placed at Scott Lake and Prairie Dog State Park. The program is looking to expand this year and build five cabins.

“It’s a solid structure with bedrooms, kitchen and dining room but it’s a relatively small structure and they have been transported for placement at one or more of the state parks,” Miskell said.

The benefit of using inmate labor is two-fold, he said.

“It is helping teach extremely marketable skills for when they are released and it is designed to fill a niche for housing that doesn’t currently exist in communities that need this kind of housing,” Miskell said."
4) Maryland -
"Something like this is bound to make Lou Dobbs' head explode: A shortage of foreign crab-pickers in Maryland is forcing the seafood industry there to consider using state prisoners to do the hard, nasty, low-paying work.

"At issue is finding workers willing to spend their days picking the meat from pile after pile of steamed crabs so the product can be packaged for sale in little plastic tubs," writes the Baltimore Sun's Stephanie Desmon."
5) Nevada -
"CARSON CITY -- The Division of Forestry could save hundreds of thousands of dollars on approved and pending construction projects if it used more prison inmate labor, an audit released Tuesday said.

The Division of Internal Audits said a conservative estimate puts the savings at $620,000 if selected portions of the work on several proposed projects, from nursery renovations to dispatch center repairs, was done by inmates at state conservation camps."
6) New York -
"Two busloads of prisoners from Rikers Island — wearing matching red- and white-striped jumpsuits — have been setting up and breaking for Borough President Markowitz’s controversial concerts in Coney Island’s Asser Levy Park.

The inmates aren’t a threat to public safety, according to the city — but they are a heck of a bargain for Markowitz.

“It saves me money, that’s the motivation for having them!” said Debra Garcia, who is in charge of the Beep’s concerts. “It saves about a few thousand dollars a week.”

"Under the “Cool Hand Luke”-style program, the inmates set up 2,000 seats at the front of the park’s bandshell near Surf Avenue and West Fifth Street hours before the show. The next morning, the inmates are returned to the spot to collect the chairs.

"The work detail for prisoners — which also takes place at Wingate Field in Crown Heights as part of Markowitz’s Martin Luther King Jr. concert series — appears to be the only one of its kind in Brooklyn.

"A Department of Correction official said that there are only two other chain gang-style work crews in the city — both near Rikers Island.
7) WA. State

The foregoing represents only a small number of articles on this issue and the loss of thousands of public sector jobs to inmate workers. It's been happening all over American for several years now, but has become a plague of late. This is simply part and parcel of those with an agenda of cutting employment in the private sector markets by replacing workers with prisoners to save money and drive down wages and eliminate Unions and that terrible term "collective bargaining."

During the 2010 elections we all heard about Meg Whitman's use of illegal aliens at her residence. Of course, she later claimed no knowledge of the illegal status of her "maid" or housekeeper. Time and again Conservatives like Whitman and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin have been caught exploiting prison labor...then there's Texas state lawmakers. This article is from the Dallas Morning News. The link is no longer accessible from their archives (wonder why) but I have it and a link to where part of it is found. Here is an excerpt from it:
"Perk of public office: discount furniture
Critics fault officials' exclusive deal with prisons

10:10 PM CST on Tuesday, February 7, 2006By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – When Sen. Eddie Lucio built his South Texas dream home in 2003, he chose an unusual place to shop for furniture: Texas prisons.

For the dining room, inmates fashioned a table with the state seal on it, 10 chairs and six bar stools. For a private chapel, they constructed four kneelers, 12 chairs, a holy water font and two altar chairs. Total cost: $6,319.

"I liked the idea of getting things done handcrafted and by prisoners," said Mr. Lucio, a Democrat. "That is unique. It is a subject of conversation when people come visit me. I say, 'I ordered it from our own prisoners here.' "

"Mr. Lucio is one of dozens of lawmakers to buy items over the last three years from Texas Correctional Industries, a division of the state prison system that manufactures, among other things, furniture, signs and clothing. It gives inmates a chance to develop a trade or skill and saves state agencies money because, with no labor costs, items sell for far less than those from private businesses.

"And for lawmakers, buying the discounted goods is a perk of office.
Mr. Lucio is one of dozens of lawmakers to buy items over the last three years from Texas Correctional Industries, a division of the state prison system that manufactures, among other things, furniture, signs and clothing. It gives inmates a chance to develop a trade or skill and saves state agencies money because, with no labor costs, items sell for far less than those from private businesses.

"Allowing lawmakers to take advantage of not having to pay what they would pay at a retail store, and using it strictly for personal use, does not look good," Ms. Woodford said.

"Rep. Tony Goolsby, a Dallas Republican who is close to Mr. Lucio, said there's nothing wrong with personal purchases. Mr. Goolsby has an $1,100 replica of a historic desk from the Texas Capitol in his apartment in Austin.

"We're all born the same way, but we're not equal," he said. "Everybody gets perks."

"Many of his colleagues used campaign funds to buy items such as barbecue grills and bedroom furniture at prices far below retail.

"Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, had a bed frame, a dresser and a nightstand refinished in November for $219. Mr. Williams did not return phone calls seeking comment.

"Nate Crain, whose wife leads the criminal justice department's board, placed three orders together worth about $1,000 from Texas Correctional Industries in 2004 and 2005. Mr. Crain, a former Dallas County Republican Party chairman who is exploring a run for the chairmanship of the statewide party, reported in campaign records that he bought items as gifts for his volunteers and a Republican women's group.

"Board Chairman Christina Melton Crain said it was acceptable for her to order the items for her husband.

"I am allowed to order them and, as my spouse, he is allowed to pay for them," Ms. Crain said."

It isn't just the private sector that is experiencing these job losses, the Federal Prison Industries had to close several prison factories last year and lay off civilian supervisors and thousands of inmates. I have no sympathy for them because they brought about the collapse by undermining our wages and taking our jobs at every turn since 1995. However the FPI have a very influential "lawmaker" on their side and since the closings they have managed to re-open some of the closed plants and put many of the inmates back to work. This is because of the efforts of getting all federal purchasing agents to rededicate their efforts of purchasing every possible product from FPI under a "request" from U.S. Attorney General Holder.

Now some have called me crazy for implying that slave labor can be taking place under the Administration of our first African-American President. I have to say I wish that were the case but several factors just keep that from being factual. First the above memo from AG Holder in October of last year. Secondly there is the connections between the Koch Industries and Secretary Sebilius going back to Kansas when she served as Governor and the Kochsuckers loaned her an analyst to help her cut government spending - and just last year when she approved their application for a large chunk of Early Retiree Reinsurance Program after fighting President Obama's healthcare initiative before and after that approval. When we factor in that this attack on wages and unionization is being conducted by those capitalizing off of using inmate labor for profits while wanting to reduce our wages and Union busting and the President's refusal to become involved in the discussion, the situation becomes darker with implication. The fact that many of us have written to the President requesting a review of PIECP and how it is being used to take civilian jobs - without an acknowledgement or response from him or his administration, one has to question why he is refusing to join in the battle as he said he would do when campaigning? Now he has picked a Daley for his staff after making many statements that he would not have lobbyists in "his" administration. Now after more than two years of office, D.C. and the Obama Administration is top heavy with lobbyists and those who clearly support and lobby for corporations and laws such as the ones being attempted in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere.

Sebilius made known the involvement of Koch Industries and Wal-Mart in donating to bringing some Kansas troops home for the holidays in 2007 and since then we see more and more indications that both Kochsuckers and Wal-Mart are involved in Conservative politics and their agenda. In Florida new Governor Scott chose a Wal-Mart executive, Bryan W. Koon as part of his staff (Emergency Management Chief). In addition Scott also chose a member of a high profile law firm as his Special Counsel to the Governor. Hayden Dempsey from the firm of Greenberg Traurig (Jack Abramoff's old lobbying firm) was chosen for this important position. Greenberg represents PRIDE Enterprises (the non-profit corporation that runs Florida's prison industries), lobbies for PRIDE and also lobbies on behalf of Koch Industries. How about this connection between John McCain, Koch Industries and Greenberg Traurig? It goes on and on with the Kochsuckers and their ilk such as Greenberg Traurig and Wal-Mart all interrelated and interconnected on a conservative agenda, with all of their names appearing linked to today's legislation, our lawmakers and of late...Wisconsin and the Union busting and RTW laws. Here's a Google Search that returned Koch Industries and Greenberg Traurig results (4,980 results).

Just what kind of law firm is Greenberg Traurig? Check out these links: Wikipedia (see controversies), Chicago Lawyer (GT) arrested for stealing $1 million. Then there's this about a Greenberg Partner under SEC investigation, just published last month.

How about connections to the Tea Party's favorite, Sarah Palin? Here's one link that says her career has been helped by a Greenberg Traurig partner and this one shows the involvement of GT in oil and gas issues on Alaska's north slope supported by Palin. This one reports the Koch brothers hiring Palin to help with PR after the Wisconsin demonstrations began. Here she spoke at an Americans for Prosperity event in April 2010, sponsored and funded by Kochsuckers.

As can be seen from the foregoing, many states and municipalities are now replacing civilian workers with inmates. There are dozens of articles out there exposing this new concept and those implementing programs such as outlined above. A dozen here, a couple of dozen there...fifty or so here, a few private contracts there, they all add up to more and more jobs going away from the private sector and into prison. At the core of most of this are those I mentioned or linked to above. Some like GT and the Kochsuckers are the biggest names in their particular field or arena and have combined their efforts to reduce wages, expand use of prison labor and bust unions, as shown.

While corporations and companies exploiting prison labor make every effort to hide the fact that their labor or work force is made up of inmates from the public, those municipal, county and state agencies replacing civilian workers with inmates are quick to advertise this fact. They want the public to see them as being frugal with tax dollars and wisely spending only those dollars they have to on wages.

This ties in grandly with the ongoing demonstrations from coast to coast as conservatives push for more and more cuts to budgets, right to work legislation and an end to collective bargaining and unions. As my previous diaries - and those of other DK bloggers reveal - the Koch brothers (Kochsuckers) are funding most of these conservative wage and labor efforts through their foundations, along with other sympathetic PAC's and groups such as ALEC.

Conservative lawmakers belonging to ALEC and in the pockets of the Kochsuckers or others just like them, eagerly propose and support state legislation that benefits both their corporation and conservative agendas. Once these laws are put in place, they all profit from it - lawmaker and corporation alike - either through actual use of prison labor, lowered wages or from the dollars put in their pockets by lobbyists.

When all of this is put together we can see that slavery never vanished from the landscape of the U.S. The 13th Amendment left a loophole large enough to fly an Airbus 300 through it with plenty of clearance for each wingtip. It has simply been re-branded. Now it is no longer called slavery - its called "training." It still impacts upon African-Americans and other minorities especially. This training still allows the exploitation of other humans for the profit of individuals, companies, corporations and lawmakers nationwide. Our elections now have candidates taking advantage of "free" slave labor as John McCain did in Alabama in the '08 election cycle and New York's borough President Markowitz has more recently.

It is - as I've said numerous times - class warfare that is occurring and the "Haves" now have access to all the free or cheap slave labor they can use to increase the already substantial gap between the middle and upper classes in the U.S. Unless you're connected with the likes of the Kochsuckers you have no access to that free labor and the jobs some of us still have are in jeopardy of following those that have already disappeared inside prisons or overseas. Unless we as a working class society allow the Republicants and Kochsuckers to depress our wages and turn back the labor clock by 100 years, they're saying they'll take their ball and leave the game.

Those of you who have civil service jobs are in the most danger of being replaced with prisoners or being forced to accept substantial pay cuts. You and your jobs are the ones on the cusp of the abyss. You have to continue to fight for yourselves and the others in your community, while not as vulnerable as you, are still in jeopardy.

Those aligned against us have all the money and influence on their side. We have our dignity, desire to work for a living and fair wage, the ability to collectively bargain and to cast our votes as we see fit. I believe the latter is what is needed to replace the lawmakers who serve as paid servants of the likes of Koch, GT and other large corporations to steal our jobs, way of life and fair wages. Democrats this is your sign to come together and form a united front against the exploitation - of politics and prison labor - to steal America's legacy and meaning from us. Time's a wasting folks. The GOP funded agenda is in high gear and already planning "big things" for the rest of us after the 2012 election cycle. We outnumber them in registered voters and American principals. It's time for the first to fight for the latter or all of us will have to polish up our Chinese so we will be able to communicate with the Kochroaches...

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