USA: Inmates file lawsuit alleging unpaid labour in prison amounts to forced labour

Author: Ester Carpenter, The Media HQ, Published on: 8 January 2020

"Prison inmates worked for a $ 16 billion company without pay. Now they want their wages. – Mother Jones" 6 Jan 2020

Davis and seven other current and former Santa Rita inmates are now suing Aramark, Alameda County, and Sheriff Gregory Ahern before a federal court, arguing that the company “is experiencing an economic slump as a result of prisoners’ unpaid work in Santa Rita prison,” the plaintiffs allege that her unpaid kitchen jobs are forced labor, a violation of the constitution, the federal law for the protection of victims of human trafficking, and a California law of 1990, according to which private companies must pay the prisoners fair wages. They are suing on behalf of all Santa Rita inmates who have worked for Aramark, including those waiting for an immigration trial...

In a legal file, Alameda County has stated that it is the “private company” that demands unpaid wages from inmates. “All operations are operated by Aramark Corporation,” said Sgt. Ray Kelly, the sheriff’s spokesman. “We just make it easier somehow.” (The county also argued that inmates did not take the right steps to lodge a complaint before filing a lawsuit, as required by federal law.) Kelly explains that the district’s agreement with Aramark is cheaper than paying Wages and wages benefits for non-detained employees. The county also makes money by selling meals prepared in the Santa Rita kitchen to prisons in the Amador and San Joaquin counties...

The lawsuit is part of the growing movement against a prison work system that pays inmates an hourly fee (or nothing) for compulsory cooking, cleaning, and maintenance, or for work for private companies. While the 13th amendment prohibits slavery, it makes an exception to work that is done “to punish crime” and essentially enables forced labor in prisons.

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