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Prisoners Employed by PIA Seek Minimum Wages

By Mark Merin

Prisoners who have worked for the California Prison Industries Authority ("PIA") have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in Sacramento to obtain minimum wage for their work (now $4.25 per hour) instead of the pittance they now receive. If this case is successful and the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act which require employers to pay minimum wage are applied to California prisoners employed by PIA, prisoners may be entitled to back wages, and the PIA may be ordered to pay minimum wage to all employees in the future.

The State of California opposes the extension of the federal minimum wage laws to California prisoners, arguing that the prisoners are not "employees", but rather are receiving training and rehabilitation opportunities. Furthermore, the State has maintained that the PIA employment serves a penalogical purpose.

Unions have traditionally opposed the introduction of prisoner-made goods into commerce because they compete with union-made goods and undermine the wage levels of union labor. Presumably, they should support an increase in prisoner wages.

More than 1,000 past and present employees of the California PIA have already joined the lawsuit by filing their consents and by signing retainer agreements with the law firms involved in the lawsuit. Additional California prisoners who have worked with PIA at any time since August of 1989 may join by writing Mark E. Merin at Dickstein & Merin, 2001 P Street, Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95814, and requesting a copy of the complaint, the consent form, and the retainer agreement. Progress in the lawsuit will be reported regularly in the California Prisoner and PLN.

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