Bloomberg:Corporate America Never Really Quit Forced Labor

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June Zaccone

May 12, 2024, 11:31:40 AMMay 12
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Corporate America Never Really Quit Forced Labor

Inmates do billions of dollars of work for companies and governments each year. A landmark lawsuit alleges many are being kept in prison because the business is just too good. By Josh Eidelson May 11, 2024

Lakiera Walker was lying in her bunk bed a year ago, sick with flu and too weak to stand, when a prison supervisor came in to chastise her for missing the afternoon van to work. Walker’s job was on an assembly line at Southeastern Meats Inc., a supermarket supplier. The 12-hour shifts on her feet in 30-some-degree cold made her body ache and turned her fingers a deep red. Southeastern Meats paid about $13 an hour for Walker’s work packaging its frozen peas and corn, but the state pocketed most of that, including two-fifths for the Alabama Department of Corrections to “assist in defraying the cost” of her incarceration.

That afternoon, a fellow inmate would need to carry Walker to a medical ward. But when the ADOC officer found her in her room, she says, her health wasn’t his concern.

“I am so sick,” she told him.

“Get up and go make us our 40%,” he replied.

“It made me feel,” Walker recalls, “like he was a pimp.”

Now Walker, a 37-year-old recently paroled after 15 years in prison, has teamed up with nine still-incarcerated fellow plaintiffs, as well as some prominent labor lawyers and unions, to file a class action. They’re suing Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, the state’s attorney general, the prisons commissioner, parole board leaders, and a slew of cities, along with companies they claim rely on forced labor, including Hyundai supplier Ju-Young, beer distributor Bama Budweiser of Montgomery, and franchisees of KFC, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s. The workers suing are all Black. Their class action accuses the defendants of human trafficking, racketeering and violating the Ku Klux Klan Act, which targets conspiracies to deprive people of their constitutional rights. They argue that the government officials colluded to keep Black people imprisoned and available as cheap labor and that the companies conspired to profit from the coerced work. The suit, filed right before Christmas, says it seeks “to abolish a modern-day form of slavery.” ....

There are 800,000 incarcerated workers in the US, and they do roughly $10 billion worth of work a year, more than $2 billion of it for clients outside the prison system, according to a 2022 study by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Chicago.....

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Network
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