It’s been over a month since Sept. 9 marked the start of America’s largest prison labor strike in history, and it has yet to be covered by mainstream media. Due to this lack of coverage, it’s nearly impossible to discover whether this momentous event is even still going on or not.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN and NPR have all ignored this historic demonstration. The reason is largely due to the fact that many major corporate sponsors such as AT&T, Bank of America, Chevron, GEICO, McDonald’s and Walmart all use prison labor to their benefit, according to Paste Magazine.
Verizon, for example, uses prison labor for its telecommunication services. As the owner of Yahoo and The Huffington Post, it would be a conflict of interest for Verizon or any other sponsor to partially fund the coverage of the strike.
The prisoners’ collective goal is mainly to bring attention to horrific working conditions for inmates within the prisons, as well as the unjust lack of compensation.
This prison strike is the first of its kind being nationally organized and coordinated among prisoners.
They collectively advocate that if prison wages are raised, it will increase institution costs. Once that happens, the profitability of contracting out prison labor will go down, thereby eliminating any corrupt, profit-based incentives for mass incarceration, according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
The strikes have been fairly peaceful and civil thus far, so the media has no angle in which they could skew this story to make the message of their protests forgotten. They have chosen to keep the story out of the media all together.
Only small, liberal news sources have reported on the prison strike, making it difficult to find the specifics of what is going on and just how many people are involved. However, it has been reported to be taking place in prisons across more than 24 states with over 24,000 prisoners participating in the strike.
The media’s silence speaks even louder than the strike itself, pointing to the immediate need for private prison sectors, and the prison system in general, to be intensely reformed.
Prisoner activists are calling attention to prison labor conditions that activists call “modern-day slavery,” citing the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution which abolished slavery, with the exception for convicted criminals, according to Mother Jones, a nonprofit news organization.
These people may be in prison, but they are still human beings, and many of them have families they are trying to support while doing the time for their crimes. Their complaints do not lie in the work they are supposed to do, but in the payment for this work.
Most people think of prisoners as these horrible murderers and sex offenders who don’t deserve to be paid for their work. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that as of Aug. 27, only 3.1 percent of people in prison, 5,554 to be exact, are there because of homicide, aggravated assault and kidnapping offenses. A whopping 83,982 inmates, making up 46.4 percent of the prison population, are there due to drug offenses.
The majority of inmates do not get paid for the mandatory work that able-bodied prisoners must do, and those who do get paid make between 12 to 40 cents an hour. However, even those wages are subject to taxes and deductions.
Companies who use prison labor, referred to as insourcing, are not required to provide health insurance or sick days. They also don’t need to worry about unions, vacation time, raises or family issues. This leads to companies extorting the inmates who can’t protect themselves.
Not only are the wages poor, but so are the working conditions since there are very few safety standards in place for prison facilities to adhere to.
Because courts do not consider prisoners to be employees, they are not covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act and are not allowed any legal way to ask for better wages or work conditions.
“It’s an easy population to exploit physically, labor-wise and by every other means,” said Paul Wright, an editor at Prison Legal News, to Mother Jones.
The United States has less than five percent of the world’s population but almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
The total incarcerated population has gone up 500 percent in the last 30 years, leaving us with 2.4 million people imprisoned, according to Mic.
The privatization of prisons has led imprisonment to be a means for the corporate sponsors to profit off the backs of mostly black and hispanic men who were imprisoned instead of being given rehabilitation. In addition, everyone invested in private prisons is invested in keeping it this way.
Protesting injustice is what created our country in the first place. Looking over the history of the U.S., it is clear that most progress can be linked back to a group of people standing in the streets, fighting for what they believe in–a woman’s right to vote, the end of legalized segregation, gay marriage and so many more great movements.
No wonder the major media news outlets don’t want to cover this enormous piece of world news–they would have to value their journalistic integrity over their money and exploitation, and we all know that big corporations would never do that.