While many are praising Donald Trump’s latest executive order that enforces his “Buy American and Hire American” campaign promise, Rick Helfenbein, President and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, says domestic suppliers – and their employees – will still be slighted as long as the government continues to award contracts to the federal prison system.
In an op-ed for The Hill, Helfenbein explains that Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, already gets priority when it comes to manufacturing military apparel – which is required to be made in the USA thanks to the Berry Amendment – as they’re able to charge considerably less than other contractors. That’s because, in addition to not paying taxes or utility bills, UNICOR only pays inmates a paltry (and some would argue slave-like) $0.23 an hour.
According to Helfenbein, there is a misconception among policy makers and the public that prisoners only do low-skilled, menial tasks, like stamping license plates. In reality, the inmate manufacturing base includes apparel, mattresses, linens, draperies, office furniture, electronics, and printing – netting UNICOR around $500 million a year in sales.
And since there’s no provision in Trump’s order preventing UNICOR from bidding on jobs, it’s entirely possible they’re unbeatably low costs will win them even more contracts, and put even more Americans out of work.
You can read more about it at The Hill.