EMAIL PAGE NINE
COLUMN SEVENTY, APRIL 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
Portside (the left side in nautical parlance) is a
news, discussion and debate service of the Committees
of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It
says it aims to provide varied material of interest to people
on the Left.
Heretofore, we were under the impression that Portside is the Internet's voice of the Left. But it turns out to be the Internet's voice of the fundamentalist Far-Left, which, like all fundamentalist organizations, adheres to a fascistic orthodoxy and consequently refuses to post dissident or differing opinions from within the Left---such as HATE YOUR GOVERNMENT BUT LOVE YOUR COUNTRY, available to be read in SECTION ONE of COLUMN SEVENTY. Fundamentalists, like all fascists, will not tolerate any disagreements or variations from the fundamentalist orthodoxy.
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Starbuck's 'Prison coffee'
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 18:27:02 -0800 (PST)
From: portsideMod <email@example.com>
To: ps <firstname.lastname@example.org
the Seattle Weekly published December 27 " January 2, 2002
admits its contractor uses prison labor.
ERICA C. BARNETT
PEOPLE assume that prisoners, especially those convicted of felonies like rape
and murder, spend their days stamping license plates, making furniture for state
offices, and digging ditches along state highways for 25 or 30 cents an hour. So
it may seem a bit odd that Steven Strauss, until last August an inmate at the
Twin Rivers Corrections Unit in Monroe, says he spent his last Christmas holiday
packaging brightly colored bags of chocolate-covered Starbucks coffee beans and
Nintendo Game Boy systems that would end up under Christmas trees across the
Rivers, part of a four-unit prison that houses mentally ill inmates, high-
security felons, and participants in the state's Sex Offender Treatment
a statement, Starbucks public affairs director Audrey Lincoff said Starbucks is
aware that Signature
1983, when a commercial clothing assembly line at the Washington Corrections
Center for Women marked the first private venture into the Washington prison
system, the program has expanded and evolved into the largest private-sector
prison employment program in the country. Washington State Department of
Corrections (DOC) officials bill it as a revolutionary rehabilitation and
job-training program. It's also a revenue generator, providing room and board,
legal expenses, and money for crime victims that the state would otherwise be
required to pay itself. "There's a benefit to the inmate, there's a benefit
to the state, and there's a benefit to you and me as taxpayers," summarizes
Doug Edlund, co-owner of Monroe-based Signature.
mission is to give offenders, if nothing else, a work ethic and experience
mirroring some real world experience," says DOC's Cathy Carlson, who
oversees the program. "When offenders are engaged in employment, they're
mentally out of prison that eight hours a day."
corrections department, Edlund adds, has "little or no problems with the
inmates that are in this program," who must have a GED and a spotless
disciplinary record to even be considered for an interview.
SUSPECT that DOC's motives are more pecuniary than pure-hearted, noting that by
shaving nearly 50 percent off the top of an inmate's paycheck, the department
slashes its own expenses while subsidizing the companies in the program, which
aren't required to pay for inmates' health insurance or retirement. "They
figure that if somebody's sitting around, doing their time and doing nothing,
they don't make any money off them," Strauss says. "They would much
rather have you working, especially in a minimum-wage job."
Stephens, a Bellevue property-rights attorney, is suing DOC on the grounds that
the program is unconstitutional, allows businesses that use prison labor to
undercut their competitors' prices, and unfairly subsidizes some private
businesses at the expense of others. His case heads to the state Supreme Court on Jan. 31.
Court on Jan. 31.
says the company his clients are targeting, a water-jet cutting operation called
MicroJet, paid minimum wage (at the time, $5.75 an hour) and offered no benefits
for jobs that pay between $14 and $20 an hour outside prison walls. Of his seven
clients, all MicroJet competitors, "two have gone out of business and
others are about to, because the one company that gets to operate within the
prison system can seriously undercut their prices," Stephens says.
denies that his company undercuts its competitors, noting that federal law
requires companies to pay the "prevailing wage" for positions within
the prison system. "You don't get the labor for free," he says.
Signature also offers paid "vacation" and holidays, when inmates can
have visitors, make doctors' appointments, and visit with their lawyers on
Paul Wright, a prisoner and the editor of Prison Legal News, a newsletter
focusing on prison-related legal issues, likens the program to border
maquiladoras, where Mexican workers--often child laborers--make clothing,
sporting goods, and other products for sub-minimum wages. Companies, like some
advocates of prison labor, justify the practice by pointing out that the workers
are making more than they could have in their impoverished rural villages, even
if the pay is minimal by U.S. standards. "You could make $55 a month doing
janitorial work, or you could make $150 a month working for an outside
business," Wright says. Private businesses are "paying prison workers
less than they're paying on the outside, but they aren't reducing the markup to
the consumer"--they're pocketing the profits.
key difference, Wright notes, is that prisoners can just be sent back to their
cells whenever business goes through a lull; "on the outside, they have to
lay off workers. It's much more difficult," Wright says. Strauss says
employment at Twin Rivers was cyclical and sporadic. "When the economy
started to go down a little bit, there was no guarantee that they would work
you," Strauss says. "They'd work these guys really hard for the
holiday season packaging coffee, and then some people wouldn't work for eight
and Edlund deny this, noting that Signature has a contract for a minimum of 80
prison workers at a time, but Carlson acknowledges that "during the holiday
season, there's even more employment."
Stephens believes the system is a PR nightmare in the making. "A majority
of people don't even realize that these products are being manufactured by
prisoners," Stephens says. "They need to know that they are buying
these products from a company that is basically getting rich off
prisoners." Wright, sent to Twin Rivers for first-degree murder in 1987,
believes parents would be disturbed to know that their child's GameCube was
packaged by a murderer, rapist or pedophile. "These companies spend a lot
of money on their public image," Wright says, "but then they're quick
to make money any way they can." ##
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