UNICOR slave labor

From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters

Petersburg, Va.—The UNICOR corporation uses federal prisoners for labor, paying 23¢ to $1.15 per hour. Other federal prison jobs only pay 12¢ to 40¢ per hour.

UNICOR jobs are highly valued, especially by prisoners owing thousands to millions in restitution or with families to support. Veterans get preference.

I make 12¢ per hour 4.5 hours a week. That buys one medical visit or four stamps per month. Still, I do not envy UNICOR workers. They work rush job “death marches’’ 15.5 hours a day with unpaid lunch and dinner but no other breaks, several days in a row. Even workers over age 75 do this. I consider this slave labor by any reasonable or even sane standard.

The UNICOR here at Petersburg Low is a print shop. UNICOR is not supposed to compete with U.S. companies or provide them the competitive advantages of slave labor. To justify printing comics, they reportedly say companies such as BS Source Point Press are Japaese, not American.

Yet the books are clearly for American markets. The art uses American styles. The language is colloquial American English.

Federal overreach and draconian sentencing with vague and overbroad laws ensure a reliable supply of slave labor. Antiquated machines nowhere near OSHA safety standards further reduce costs.

Nevertheless, the printing is excellent and affordable. So, I am sure, were cotton products in the antebellum South, for much the same reasons. Slave labor is definitely mainstream!

At the bottom it says, “Printed in the USA by KrakenPrint.” There is no mention of UNICOR or prison labor. Do customers think they are supporting independent comics, or do they know they support slave labor? Do they care? Does slave labor make comics more collectible?

—Eric Pepke

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