America’s Slave Labor

January 28, 2007

America’s Slave Labor

(Image from MIM, which has some cool images on almost every issue)

Most people think slave labor is dead, or that it is mostly confined to places like China (why people don’t care about this is material for another posting). Of course, we have slave labor right here in America: our prisons have become the equivalent of slave plantations. Instead of picking cotton, inmates recycle computers:

U.S. prisoners working for a computer-recycling operation run by Federal Prison Industries (FPI) are being exposed to a toxic cocktail of hazardous chemicals through their prison jobs while efforts by some prison officials to protect them have been met with stonewalling and subterfuge.

Since 1994, FPI has used inmates to disassemble electronic waste (e-waste)—the detritus of obsolete computers, televisions and related electronics goods—for recycling. According to a new report, “Toxic Sweatshops”—published jointly by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Center for Environmental Health,** California-based Computer TakeBack Campaign and the Prison Activist Resource Center—the waste contains high levels of arsenic, selenium, mercury, lead, dioxins and beryllium—all considered dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report follows three years of mounting scrutiny of FPI by the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Critics say that the scrutiny has led to few reforms.

This sad state of affairs has been going on for quite a long time, and it has all but ignored. Is it any wonder that prisons in the U.S. are overcrowded, with the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate of the world?

Besides, what’s the big deal? Computer components are safe, right? Wrong:

A single computer contains hundreds of chemicals—including up to 8 pounds of lead—that are known to cause cancer, respiratory illness and reproductive problems, says the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Prisoners interviewed for the report cite health issues, including slow-healing wounds, sinus problems, headaches, fatigue, and burning skin, eyes, noses and throats. Since no one on the recycling floor was issued proper protective gear, the guards and other personnel who supervised the inmates fared little better.

Leroy Smith, a health and safety manager at the facility, became concerned when air quality tests that he initiated showed elevated levels of toxins in the recycling center, which sat just feet from a food-processing area. After each test, Smith said, he would suspend operations and request further safety measures, only to be overridden by Atwater Federal Prison officials and UNICOR supervisors who insisted there was no safety threat.

The entire article is pasted below. Read the rest of this entry »


How Employers Discriminate by Marital Status

December 28, 2006

As if women weren’t discriminated enough. One of the most common factors of discrimination is via marital status. Men reading this blog might think, that’s just a bunch of bull. It’s not:

Only 22 states and Puerto Rico specifically prohibit employers from inquiring about applicants’ marital status. That means “maternal profiling” is a real problem for many women.

Just ask Kiki Peppard. […] But Pennsylvania is one of those many states that says nothing against the practice, which in the absence of a federal prohibition, makes it perfectly OK. In fact, those were usually among the first questions asked, she said, and many hiring managers ended the encounter soon after she honestly answered them.

“You have to understand how humiliating it was to be denied employment because I was a mother, and how humbling it was to not know where your next meal is coming from, and that as a woman in this country, you really are treated as worthless,” she said.

As you might imagine, the mainstream media barely covers any related developments, if at all:

For 12 years Peppard, a single mother, has campaigned to get Pennsylvania to make it illegal for employers to ask about an applicant’s marital or familial status. Last week, on Nov. 30, the bill died its most recent death when committee chairmen refused to allow it to move to the floor of the state House and Senate for a vote.

This bill has not only failed with legislators, it’s also been pretty much of a non-starter with the press. Peppard says–and my own Web searches confirm–there was no coverage of the bill’s most recent failure. […] She spent six years trying to get Pennsylvania legislators to sponsor a bill against maternal profiling in interviews and the next six trying to get the bill passed into law.

She says she has been contacting reporters from the very beginning, but after all that time she can count the news sightings on just about two hands and most of that is coming from the alternative or independent press.

One break came her way when MomsRising.org made her story a centerpiece of their cause to improve U.S. motherhood conditions. Peppard is heavily featured in the activist group’s 2006 documentary “The Motherhood Manifesto,” based on the book of the same name by MomsRising co-founders Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, who also published a Mother’s Day piece about Peppard this year in the Nation. MomsRising blogger Cooper Munroe also got an op-ed about Peppard published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sept. 27.

How typical. By the way, visit the MomsRising website when you have a chance.