Monday, September 26, 2022

Amazon Stock Soars on Prison Labor Deal

Amazon has found an end run to the labor shortage.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - Amazon announced today that it has solved the labor shortage problem and also found a new way to thwart the unionization of its distribution centers by hiring prison labor.

"The solution presented itself," Jack Whitehead, Amazon's vice president of labor relations noted, "We were experiencing labor strife at one of our fulfillment centers, and then we noticed it was within a half mile of a privately run prison.  It was a no-brainer."

Amazon can now hire non-union prison labor for $1 per hour, far undercutting current wages paid to Union and non-union laborers like. What's more, the company no longer has to comply with pesky labor laws, eliminating such perks as periodic rest breaks and restroom visits.

"They can piss in their pants for all we care," Whitehead chuckled, "They're prisoners, what are they going to do, escape?"

Ask whether there could be a shortage of prison labor as well, Whitehead noted that, "That's the beauty of it! We can always create new laws to criminalize everyday behavior and create an endless supply of slave labor. Whoops! Did I say slave? Just kidding!"

Marijuana is still a criminalized in many states, and Whitehead noted that Amazon is on the forefront of pushing to recriminalize marijuana in many more states. "This way," he noted, "We can create an endless supply of low-wage labor for our warehouses."

* * *

It is a frightening thought, but one I had while driving through Arkansas.  We saw a sign that said "Federal Prison" and the arrow seemed to be pointing at a FedEx distribution hub. It got me to thinking..... kill two birds with one stone!

Many people are alarmed by the rise in private "for-profit" prisons, which States have used as a means of handling overflow prisoners, reducing overcrowding, and of course, cutting costs to the bone. Prison industries are nothing new - when I was at the Patent Office, the desks and chairs we had were built at the minimum-security prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania - where the Watergate burglars were sent.  Each one had a sticker underneath advertising this fact.

But that was then - prison labor was used mostly for government contracts, or, like in the days of "Cool Hand Luke" as chain gangs, clearing brush from the side of the road or breaking rocks for road paving. Even the chain gangs were going away, at one time - thought to be a vestige of the old, racist South.

Today, though, prison labor is a hot topic, as many private prisons are making money by selling the labor of their "guests" to the highest bidder.  Prisoners are paid - a pittance - which is mostly used to buy small items for their own comfort, such as toiletries and the like - things you'd usually expect to be provided by your host!

Many argue that the wages paid are scandalously low - a few dimes and pennies per hour, in some cases.  Others point out that your "room and board" are covered by the government, and thus the pay is not as unfair as it might seem.  If we pay prisoners minimum wage, does the government get to charge them rent?   After all, it can cost well over twenty grand a year, just to keep someone incarcerated, and the principle of charging prisoners for their incarceration is also gaining ground.

But if you think about it, prison labor would be ideal for Amazon.  The "workers" wouldn't be able to unionize, go on strike, or even take a bathroom break - not without asking permission of shotgun-toting guards.  And if the fulfillment center is located next to the prison, then the transportation costs are nil.  Infractions of rules can be used as a means of denying parole or even extending sentences. And creating new classes of crimes and criminals would create an endless stream of virtual slave-labor.

I sort of chuckled as I thought of this - not because the idea of slave labor is funny.  But rather, I thought it would be funny to somehow get access to the Amazon labor relations people and pitch this idea with a slick PowerPoint presentation - and see what happens.  Rather than being appalled by the idea, I suspect several of the executives would instead ask pointed questions as to actual costs and how to implement the scheme.   The morality of it would likely not be questioned.

The more I thought about it, the more horrified I became.  This is a way virtual slavery could be instituted.  We would end up with a two-class society, with the very wealthy able to skip out on criminal convictions because they could hire lawyers, or, as in recent months, never be charged as prosecutors would know not to whack the bee-hive.  Meanwhile, the poor would be assigned public defenders and the best they could hope for is to negotiate a plea deal with as little time as possible.

And maybe - just maybe - we're already there.  Pay a friend with Venmo to have sex with an underage girl and you skate away from charges like a pat of butter on a hot skillet.  Steal a video game from Walmart and you end up in jail.  The rich, it seems, get away with it, or at worst, serve light sentences in celebrity jails and then write books about the experience - and come away richer than ever.

We are at risk of becoming a two-class society, with the very rich getting away with whatever they want, and the very poor having no options at all.

Funny thing, though, while driving through Missouri (and most of America these days) we saw hardly any Trump signs, flags, or bumper stickers.  Part of this is due to the fact that the "Made in America" merch he sold his chumpkins was in fact, poorly made in China.  The few people stupid enough to still fly Trump flags were flying faded tattered remnants of banners.

But one fellow had a sign professionally made at Sign-O-Rama, with the American flag as a background.  The lengthy message on it was something to the effect that the Demmycrats want to create a two-class society - the very poor (who will exist on social welfare subsidies) and the very rich.  I thought this was an interesting take on things, as the same accusation could be better made against the Republicans - who want to cut taxes for the very rich, cut social programs for the very poor, and criminalize all sort of behavior and throw everyone (except the rich) in jail.  He had the right idea, but the wrong party, I think.

Maybe it is just me, but I'd rather collect my free Obamacare and free Obamaphone and Social Security, than live in a prison and working for 33 cents an hour.  One party promotes the former, the other promotes the latter.  Some in the GOP are still serious about abolishing Social Security and Medicare!  I guess they figure the older voters who were their base are dying off - and now they are courting the grievance vote - chubby 30-something men whose lives are a wreck, blaming immigrants and feminists for all of their problems.

UPDATE:  While Amazon doesn't yet use prison labor, apparently many other major corporations do!

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that Amazon’s newest executive of warehouse Learning and Development is a former Corecivic executive.