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Unicor Steals Glove Business From Private Firms

The Genco Corporation of Tennessee is among 10 private firms that have contracts with the Defense Department to manufacture gloves for the U.S. military. Suppliers of military gloves are not a happy lot these days, though. Complaining loudly of unfair competition, the 10 glovemakers have banded together to form the Federal Glove Contractors Coalition.

The manufacturer that FGCC attorneys accuse of dirty tricks is not a foreign company. Instead, it is an agency of the federal government.

In order to combat idleness among its burgeoning prisoner population, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons sets up factories inside its institutions and hires prisoners as laborers to manufacture products the BOP then sells. Unicor, the name given to the prison-industry program, sells more than $10 million worth of gloves to the Defense Department annually.

Unicor is presently trying to expand its military-glove sales to $14 million per year, 30% of the total market. If the prison-labor agency succeeds in that effort, Genco Corp. may be forced to lay off 150 workers. "We understand the desire to provide some work experience for federal prisoners," says Genco plant manager Ron Chapman, "but not if it takes away the jobs of honest, taxpaying workers and businesses."

Jay Mazur, president of UNITE, the union representing workers at three of the private suppliers of military gloves, also opposes Unicor's practices. "The government is taking jobs away from taxpayers who are hard-working Americans and giving them to prisoners," Mazur told a reporter. "They say this is to train convicts for future work. But the irony is that if the government keeps taking work out of the factories and into the prisons, they will totally dry up the remaining glove industry in the U.S."

The FGCC charges that Unicor enjoys huge advantages, making it impossible for private firms to compete. As an example, Unicor is not even required to negotiate for contracts with government agencies. Federal law grants Unicor the right to preempt government contracts with private companies and unilaterally take over federal procurement orders.

Unicor is also exempt from minimum-wage laws. The agency pays prisoners 23¢ to $1.15 per hour. Unicor pays no federal taxes or worker benefits.

Oddly enough, considering that the Bureau of Prisons exists to punish lawbreakers, Unicor's entry into the military-glove market was itself accomplished illegally, according to the FGCC. Coalition lawyers say Unicor began making gloves for the Defense Department without the required authorization from the Federal Prison Industries Board.

In order to protect the future of private military-glove suppliers, the FGCC is appealing to the Clinton administration to scale back Unicor's sales to the Defense Department. Glovemakers argue that failure to act will result in the federal government putting private companies out of business. "Unlike private industry, prisons don't pay taxes, don't pay much in wages-and they don't even have to compete for the business," says Genco's Ron Chapman. "They have contracts set aside for them."
The Washington Post, The Tennessean

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