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Prison Labor Clearing Boston Snow


Even if you think that prisoners are better off doing work outside than being stuck in their cells, I hope we can all agree that prisoners being paid 20 cents an hour to shovel the mountains of snow that have walloped Boston is more than a little inappropriate.

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  • shah8

    Remember, when Buffalo had their mini blizzard on the south side, that the football team could not get enough people to shovel out the stadium at $10 an hour. In small part, that was responsible for the game being played in Detroit.

    How much do you want to bet that there will be a legal suit for this stunt?

  • c u n d gulag


    Word’s can’t express the ‘0y”,factor…


    • Downpuppy

      Also the Hah! factor. There was a clip of people shoveling the tracks on the TeeVee News yesterday, and they were stunningly inept. How can anybody not know that you need to actually move the snow off, not just toss it up a little? The commuter rail is worse – the part I walked by this morning, a few miles out of North Station, you couldn’t even see the tracks. (But they were running trains anyhow)

  • rea

    (1) You will note that the 20 cents per hour is the national average wage for prisoners, rather than what they are paying in Boston (the article doesn’t say what they’re paying in Boston).

    (2) Whatever they pay in Boston isn’t likely to be fair market value for the work, or anything close.

    (3) Even if you think prisoners are scum who deserve what they get, this is a ripoff of the people to whom the prisoners owe restitution.

    • Aimai

      Why don’t they say how much these guys are getting paid? I’d like to know. And I’d like to know if this has been done before. Its scandalous.

  • Nobdy

    The only situation where it is ever appropriate to pay someone 20 cents an hour to do anything involves time travel.

    I would also be shocked, quite literally shocked, if the prisoners were given proper snow apparel and their warmth and well-being was looked after.

    This is unconscionable. I’d say it’s shocking but, in fact, it is not at all shocking.

  • Shygetz

    Reading the story, it appears that the prison laborers are working alongside the unionized labor. If we can assume that the union has agreed to the use of temporary prison labor, and if we can further assume that the prisoners are volunteering to work for the wage offered and being provided appropriate cold weather gear (which I would not necessarily assume, but would not find as shocking as others would), then why is it wholly inappropriate?

    • Aimai

      Can prisoners be said to be truly “volunteering”?

      • Brien Jackson

        I mean, in the sense that the alternative is staying in prison for the day…

        • joe from Lowell

          Doesn’t that argument undermine Aimai’s point?

          They wouldn’t exactly be ‘volunteering’ to stay in prison all day instead of shoveling, either.

  • efgoldman

    When I was a kid (50s into early/mid 60s) you’d hear regular announcements on the big radio stations: the MTA needs shovelers at [names of yards]. Report by [time]. Shovels will be provided. Pay is [some amount higher that minimum wage, lower than union scale].

    Those were some high quality shovels. Lots of people took them home. We still have one that one of mrs efgoldman’s grandfathers used.

    • I read that after this past storm, the MBTA was offering $30 an hour for people to shovel out the Braintree branch of the Red Line. I think you had to provide your own shovel, though.

  • Warren Terra

    The really sad thing about this blog post is that I can easily imagine it being duplicated word-for-word on a winger blog, with the winger’s complaint being that the prisoners are getting paid at all.

  • MAJeff

    Ah, prison labor, the still-constitutional slavery.

  • Brett

    It’s not exactly the type of work you want prisoners doing – namely, work that might actually help them find work once they’re out of jail. But since it’s just a particularly bad weather season this time around I don’t object as long as they have appropriate clothing and equipment for the job. As Shygetz points out above they’re not displacing regular city workers with this.

    And aside from the rip-off phone charges, it’s basically spending money for additional stuff since the prison is already providing accommodation, shelter, and food. Feels a little low, still – I’d be happier if it was at least $1/hr.

    • Nobdy

      Assuming the prisoners don’t have anyone outside that they are supporting.

    • Aimai

      I don’t understand why it isn’t at least minimum wage. The cost to imprison someone is a sunk cost-the state doesn’t make it back no matter what. So it ought not to be factored in to the payment decision in the first place.

  • Malaclypse

    From the TP piece Erik linked to:

    The MBTA’s turn to inmate labor likely means that the system’s contracts prohibit paying non-union members to do the work. The city is reportedly offering $30 an hour for union workers to shovel tracks, and supplementing those paid work crews with prisoners.

    From the source of the TP article:

    A mixture of union workers, students and others just looking to make some extra cash are shoveling MBTA tracks, WBZ-TV’s Nicole Jacobs reports. The MBTA is paying $30 an hour to workers who help clear the snow.

    About 50 inmates from the Department of Correction are also helping to shovel, the MBTA said.

    So, non-union labor is not prohibited, meaning TP has at least one factual error, and TP has no reason to believe that prisoners are only getting 20 cents an hour.

    Are we right-wingers, that we don’t need evidence, just a narrative that fits our conceptions?

    • joe from Lowell

      I find low-wage prison labor for for-profit employers inappropriate. I find low-wage prison labor that undercuts ordinary workers inappropriate.

      This story (with the facts as corrected by Mal?) No, not really.

    • shah8

      This makes all sorts of sense. Thanks, Mal.

    • I scrolled down and looked at the comments on that source article. Wow. Not that I didn’t already know this, but the people who comment on local news articles are the worst. The first comment starts off:

      The real danger to America is not just a filthy muslim sodomite by the name of Obama alone, but a citizenry capable of entrusting a filthy sodomite like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of a gay Obama presidency than to restore the necessary,commonsense ,Godliness and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a creature for their president or any democrat.

      After that, they seem to get a little bit more on topic, but not really any better.

  • Feathers

    They’ve used prisoners for snow removal on the DC Metro system when snow threatened to close the above ground tracks in Virginia.

    Signing on to all the problems with prison labor, but when there is an emergency like this…

    I’m just outside Boston and the T being shut down has played hell with everything, even beyond the Stephen King levels of snow. (It’s piling up on my side porch and about to reach the window sills on the first floor, which I can’t look into from the ground.) Not using every option available option at this point would be governmental malpractice. Right now so many people aren’t able to make it to work, hurting hourly workers the most. Glad to be between jobs at the moment.

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