Prison labor in U.S. garment industry exposed by L.A. Times

They work under the watchful eyes of armed guards, putting together partially finished T-shirts on industrial sewing machines. A 14-foot fence topped with coiled razor wire surrounds the workshop and beyond that are three tiers of electrified fences.
On paper, they’re paid the U.S. minimum wage, but actually, they get to keep only about $1.14 per hour after the deductions are made. Their employer pays no medical benefits, pensions, state disability insurance, federal unemployment taxes and they get no vacations.
Even worse, these caged and exploited men, every one a convicted felon, sew the “coveted” Made in USA tags into every garment they produce, resulting in a product unfairly competitive with goods made in Mexico or Honduras.
Is this another scandal turned up by the U.S. Interior Department on Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, further grounds for federalization of the CNMI’s labor and immigration controls due to “well-documented” labor abuses?
Actually, the scene is a prison in Southern California and a recent story in the Los Angeles Times reveals what a good deal a prison labor program is for garment makers such as CMT Blues of San Diego. The firm is already taking in millions for its prison-produced products and other manufacturers are planning to tap the same workforce. Pleased California Department of Corrections officials say: “We provide a stable, reliable workforce, a captive audience if you will. These are employees who will show up every day without hangovers, carpool or baby-sitting problems.”
Critics of the CNMI garment industry, in both national media such as ABC’s 20/20 and the current billion dollar class action lawsuits have suggested that forced labor is practiced on Saipan and that alien contract workers are in effect prisoners or slaves. According to the Times, University of California-Berkeley economist and former Clinton administration advisor David I. Levine remarked, “At a basic PR level, it looks pretty bad attacking China for its prison labor when we have it here.” Others have questioned whether such programs don’t discriminate against workers who aren’t convicted murderers or burglars.
Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association Executive Director Richard A. Pierce said, “You have to wonder how Congressman [George] Miller can bear this exploitation of fellow human beings right in his own backyard as well as watching jobs being taken away from union members. It’s certainly time for the US Department of Labor and the human rights groups to take a close look at this situation.”