Sunday, September 28, 2014

Berry Amendment Prison Labor: Saving Tax Payers from Jobs

Its a grand thing that we have the Berry Amendment, so that military uniforms like the No-Fly ACU can be manufactured stateside by prisoners. Some say, "Its ok, that $816,332 award to Federal Prison Industries Inc. (Unicor) will work its way back into the system", however manufacturers that "pay" for labor are passed up on contracts like this or simply disappear from existence. 

In the recent study, "The Berry Amendment: Requiring Defense Procurement to Come from Domestic Sources", Valerie Bailey Grasso, Specialist in Defense Acquisition reports:
In order to protect the U.S. industrial base during periods of adversity and war, Congress passed domestic source restrictions as part of the 1941 Fifth Supplemental Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act. These provisions later became known as the Berry Amendment. The Berry Amendment (Title 10 United States Code [U.S.C.] §2533a, Requirement to Buy Certain Articles from American Sources; Exceptions) contains a number of domestic source restrictions that prohibit DOD from acquiring food, clothing (including military uniforms)...The Berry Amendment applies to DOD purchases only...In addition, the practice of sourcing certain products and materials from foreign entities in violation of the Berry Amendment may harm the domestic industrial base, as well as result in U.S. job losses. 
I can understand using prison labor complies with the Berry Amendment, if said prisons are stateside. It appears that paying inmates below markets wages or simply taking jobs from law abiding citizens makes a mockery of the intentions put forth by Congress when passing this provision. Some may argue the effectiveness of the Berry Amendment in providing the best quality product on specific items, however if we are to have a solid protection for Made in the USA labor, it should actually protect the laborers and manufacturers that put an honest effort forward in contributing to the U.S. economy. FPI/Unicor defends their inmate jobs programs by stating some "Facts",
FPI is not a business - it is a correctional program. With few exceptions, it only sells its products to the federal government, it does limited advertising, and it focuses primarily on labor-intensive activities in order to provide more inmates with skills and work experience. The real product that FPI turns out is a productive citizen who can return to society as a law-abiding taxpayer because of the skills and experience they have gained.
It is beyond me why these companies can't stick to manufacturing garments and other products that are normally passed off to China due to labor costs. It appears that foreign imports are all the rage for stocking the shelves at Wally World. Surely, those same prisoners can be rehabilitated all the same by putting together some great granny pajamas, which without a doubt will sell well given the cost savings. One would be hard pressed to defend a position that FPI has not cost Americans their jobs. Lost contracts have clearly done so in a down economy. Should we use prison labor if it impacts a domestic manufacturing base?