News & Commentary

August 20, 2018

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandalow-Ash is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Incarcerated people across the United States will go on strike starting tomorrow (Tuesday, August 21st) to protest mass incarceration, poor prison conditions, and exploitative prison labor practices.  While the 13th Amendment bars slavery and involuntary servitude, it creates an exception for involuntary work imposed “as a punishment for crime;” and many states force prisoners to work for pennies per hour or even for free.  Prisoners who work voluntarily are also grossly underpaid. According to the Marshall Project, inmates in state prisons make an average of 20 cents an hour, and this past summer, incarcerated workers fought wildfires in California for just $1/hour.  The prison strikers have outlined ten national demands, including: extending minimum and prevailing wage protections to incarcerated workers; ending forced labor in prisons; guaranteeing voting rights to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people; improving prison living conditions; correcting racial injustices in the prison system; reversing legislation that limits prisoners’ ability to sue to enforce their rights; and ending to Life Without Parole sentences.  Between August 21st and September 9th, prisoners will advocate for these demands using work strikes, hunger strikes, and sit-ins.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) have reached an agreement whereby Planned Parenthood will drop its NLRB challenge to its employees’ vote in favor of unionization.  In a joint statement, SEIU and Planned Parenthood announced that the two parties have “agreed to a creative bargaining process that reduces the potential for conflict” and will work together to ensure “that all people have access to affordable health care as a human right.”

Last Wednesday, thousands of union members rallied in Philadelphia to protest the detention and separation of immigrant children and families.  According to organizers, this rally — entitled “Labor United to Free the Children” — was the largest labor-led demonstration against President Trump’s immigration policies and practices to date.

Around 1,400 Google employees have signed a letter calling for new ethics and transparency procedures in response to reports that the company is working on a censor-friendly search engine for China.  These employees expressed concerns about working on a project that will help an authoritarian government withhold information from its citizens. As the New York Times reports, this letter is “the latest example” of Google employees protesting the company’s business practices.  For instance, last April, Google workers successfully pressured the company to not renew a contract with the Pentagon for a program using Artificial Intelligence technology to improve weaponry.

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