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Washington Union Sues over Prison Slave Labor

On August 29, 1996, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) local 970 filed suit in Pierce County (Tacoma) superior court over the use of prison labor to expand the Cedar Creek Correctional Center. The prisoners are paid between 50¢ and $1.40 an hour to install electrical wiring. Union members earn $23.56 an hour plus about $8.50 in benefits to perform the same labor. IBEW president Ed Rheaume repeated what PLN has been saying for years: "A guy is going to have to go to prison to get a job. What they want to do is have prison labor build all the prisons in the state."

Guy Sternal, the Tacoma attorney representing the union, estimated the suit will cost $100,000 in litigation fees. Sternal also stated that once guard costs and efficiency are factored in, prison slave labor costs more than IBEW electricians. Tom Young, the attorney general defending the state in the case said slave labor is cheaper. PLN inquiries to Mr. Sternal for more details on the suit have gone unanswered. PLN is unaware of any other lawsuits filed by union workers over the use of prison slave labor. We ask readers to keep us informed on local developments on this issue.

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Related legal case

Nat'l Electrical Contractors Assn v. Riveland