From Voters Legislative Transparency Project: Las Vegas: Prison Labor Used to Beat the Odds

This research article comes from the weblog: Voters Legislative Transparency Project. We are glad that they have investigated this:

Jan. 11th 2013, by Bob Sloan

Thousands of tourists, businessmen, CEO’s and executives from all over the world mix with citizens of Nevada in the luxury and splendor of Las Vegas’ many hotels and casinos.  Most come to this beautiful city for the gambling and incredible shows found everywhere one turns.  Inside the cool confines of casinos visitors can trust that every slot machine, roulette table and blackjack shoe is checked and monitored to guarantee fair play – no magnets under the roulette table, no dealer manipulating the cards or slots rigged to never pay out. Those trying to shave the odds are not welcome and at the first hint of cheating, find themselves on the sidewalk, banned or worse.

Each casino has a multitude of surveillance cameras to guarantee play is fair and the odds are understood by all who play the quarter slots or sit down at the high roller poker table.  To ensure such fairness, the Nevada Gaming Commission regulates every aspect of gambling in the entire state.  Strict penalties for violation of gaming regulations by casino operators keep each in line and playing by the rules.

Outside the casinos, locals find the guarantees of fair play and manipulation of odds are not so well regulated. State agencies responsible for overseeing and enforcing specific state laws and regulations have lost their vigilance.  In at least one case a state regulation involving the Nevada Department of Corrections is providing one company an unfair advantage over competitors.  The prize sought isn’t a hundred dollar hit on quarter slots, its millions in profits.  An important aspect of this advantage provided to a single company, is an increase in Nevada’s already high 10.8% unemployment rate.

The issue is an ongoing battle being waged over the use of inmate labor by a private company, Alpine Steel operating out of Las Vegas, NV.  Alpine is competing directly against other Nevada companies in the field of structural steel fabrication.  Alpine’s competitors pay fair wages, benefits, provide unemployment insurance and vacation pay, while Alpine avoids all those costs.

It is not illegal for companies to be allowed to use prison labor under current laws but there are strict state and federal regulations involved that must be met before allowing direct competition with prison made products:

Mandatory Criteria for Program Participation

Corrections departments that apply to participate in PIECP must meet all nine of the following criteria:

1. Eligibility. Authority to involve the private sector in the production and sale of inmate-made goods on the open market.

2. Wages. Authority to pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work is performed.

3. Non-inmate worker displacement. Written assurances that PIECP will not result in the displacement of employed workers; be applied in skills, crafts, or trades in which there is a surplus of available gainful labor in the locality; or significantly impair existing contracts.

4. Benefits. Authority to provide inmate workers with benefits comparable to those made available by the federal or state government to similarly situated private-sector employees, including workers’ compensation and, in some circumstances, Social Security.

5. Deductions. Corrections departments may opt to take deductions from inmate worker wages. Permissible deductions are limited to taxes, room and board, family support, and victims’ compensation. If victims’ compensation deductions are taken, written assurances that the deductions will be not less than 5 percent and not more than 20 percent of gross wages and that all deductions will not total more than 80 percent of gross wages.

6. Voluntary participation. Written assurances that inmate participation is voluntary.

7. Consultation with organized labor. Written proof of consultation with organized labor prior to program startup.

8. Consultation with local private industry. Written proof of consultation with local private industry prior to program startup.

9. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Written proof of compliance with NEPA requirements prior to program startup. (emphasis mine, source BJA PIECP program overview)

In the instant case, most of the above mandatory regulations are being ignored – entirely. Prevailing wages paid by most in the steel fabrication industry in Las Vegas are in excess of $17.00 per hour.  The inmates manufacturing components for Alpine are paid less than half that scale at minimum wage or less.

By having access to and using inmate labor provided by Nevada’s Silver State Industries (SSI), Alpine Steel, is able to underbid competitors for structural steel construction projects.  This company is just one of several businesses in Nevada (and 150 others nationwide) enjoying increased benefits and profits derived from inmate labor.  Other Nevada companies enjoying similar access to inmate labor include; Vinyl Products, Inc., (vinyl waterbeds), Thomson Equipment Company (Silver Line Industries trailer manufacture and remanufacturing) and Jacobs Trading Company (repackaging).

Alpine Steel is currently manufacturing and installing prison made structural steel components at three locations in Las Vegas; the SkyVue (Ferris Wheel developed by Howard Bulloch), Staluppi Automotive Group’s Planet Mazda and Wet ‘n’ Wild Las Vegas (financed by Andre Agassi; his wife, Steffi Graf; Dr. Steven and Karen Thomas, members of the Thomas family of Thomas & Mack Center fame; and Roger and Scott Bulloch, of SPB Capital Partners).  Companies competing with Alpine Steel for these contracts, were totally unaware they were competing against a company with such a distinct and hidden advantage.

While the Staluppi and water park projects are actively being constructed, the Sky Vue job appears to be abandoned, though developer Howard Bulloch assures the absence of activity is due to plan revisions – and not a lack of funding.

Read the rest here and plz read part 2 and 3 too when they are published

Progressive Wisconsin? State Marked by Empty Factories, Full Prisons

From: In These Times
April 5, 2010

State has highest black male incarceration rate in country; twelve times the rate of white men.
By Roger Bybee

Wisconsin has long enjoyed a reputation as an enlightened, progressive state.

Its reputation goes back to the populist flavor of the state constitution, the strong movement for the abolition of slavery, the staunchly anti-corporate governor (and later senator) “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, the building of powerful labor and socialist movements, and one of the nation’s very best university systems.

But a visit to my hometown of Racine for a meeting this week was a painful reminder of how the city and state are moving toward a very different model of society: the mass destruction of family-supporting jobs coupled with the mass incarceration of thousands of young men who grew up in deprived, disorganized neighborhoods shattered by de-industrialization.

GHOSTLY FACTORIES—AND A MASSIVE NEW JAIL

Unemployment in Racine is now 16.7%, reflecting both the toll of the Great Recession and the permanent loss of about 13,500 manufacturing jobs between 1979 and 2007, 42% of the city’s industrial jobs. My hometown is filled with ghostly empty factories and vast empty, flat fields of brown grass where factories once turned out tractors, garden equipment, children’s Golden Books, machine tools, auto parts, farm machinery, and on and on.

In industrial towns like Racine, factories have been emptied out, with no family-supporting jobs to replace them. Meanwhile a flock of new prisons and jails have been filled up, providing jobs for some ex-factory workers and a cell for others.

Racine has a new $30 million jail that holds about six times as many prisoners as the one it replaced, which was completed only in 1980. A juvenile corrections facility now sits where the Rainfair clothing factory stood before its new owners sent the jobs to China.

PRISON POPULATION INCREASES NEARLY EIGHT-FOLD

With the path to legitimate success blocked for so many, it is only predictable that a certain percentage of young men, in particular, would be drawn to criminal activity. But unlike Wisconsin’s neighbor, Minnesota, which has only about one-third the number of prisoners despite roughly similar demographics and population, Wisconsin has not developed a major system of non-prison alternatives to help young men complete their educations, obtain training and jobs, and find a non-criminal path for their lives.

Statewide, the prison population has exploded from 2,973 in 1970 to 23,112 at the end of last year, representing nearly an eight-fold increase.

A sizable portion of these prisoners come from six counties which have all suffered devastating losses in industrial jobs: Milwaukee, Dane, Racine, Kenosha, Rock and Waukesha. The city of Milwaukee lost 65% of its industrial jobs between 1977 and 2002, with leading local corporations like Johnson Controls, Master Lock and AO Smith coming to employ more workers in Mexico than Milwaukee. In Rock County, Janesville—which lost its huge General Motors assembly plant at the end of 2008—has an official unemployment rate of 13.1% and nearby Beloit has the state’s highest jobless rate of 18.3%.
Wisconsin carries the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of African-American male incarceration of any state in the nation. African Americans are incarcerated at 12 times the rate of whites.
At every point in the downward slide toward prison, African-Americans find less favorable treatment than whites.

The cost of the state’s vast expansion of prisons and jails has meant a major drain on the revenues that once supported Wisconsin’s excellent university system, forcing a quadrupling of tuition over the last 20 years, according to Jay Burseth, president of the UW-Milwaukee Students Association. It has also triggered increasingly sharp struggles by UW students to hold down tuition, as covered last month in these pages.

As economist Michael Rosen has pointed out, the link between rising prison expenditures and declining educational opportunities is clear-cut. Even while crime has been declining, the number of prisoners kept climbing:

Between 1987 and 2007, Wisconsin actually cut its support for higher education by 6%. Only 6 states reduced their investment in higher ed by more. During the same period, Wisconsin increased corrections spending by 251%, 8th highest nation, despite a declining crime rate.

MORE PRISON SPENDING MEANS HIGHER TUITON, LESS ACCESS

Ironically, the cost of incarcerating of mostly poor young men has directly and a severely reduced the opportunities for young people to stay out of trouble, get a good education and lead a productive life. The diversion of state funds from colleges and technical schools to the prison system has forced a much heavier burden of tuition on those who would like to attend college.

Rosen notes the conclusions of a study committee composed of representatives of Wisconsin’s university system and technical colleges: “Wisconsin students from lower income families have less access to a college education than in the U.S. as a whole.”

According to Prof. Pam Oliver of UW-Madison, a leading scholar who has done extensive research on the metastazing of Wisconsin’s prison population, there has not yet been any systematic, full-scale study of the relationship between de-industrialization and the huge explosion in incarceration in Wisconsin.
But this linkage between the community devastation represented by the state’s vacant factories and the crowded jails and prisons now seems brutally clear. The connection stands as a major indictment of the shameful economic and social policies shaped by major corporations’ decisions and the policy choices of government officials unwilling to challenge corporate power.

http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entr/5774/progressive_wisconsin_state_m arked_by_empty_factories_full_prisons