You have seen how modern employment law is connected to the end of slave labor in the United States. This week you will study two social facts that put downward pressure on the wages of U.S. workers: overseas competition and prison labor here at home.
President Clinton signed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and it became law on January 1, 1994. There are numerous other multilateral trade agreements that, like NAFTA, are designed to make it easier to sell goods around the world. Critics contend these laws have hurt the wages and benefits of American workers. They contend these trade deals do not protect workers and the environment.
Unicor (http://www.unicor.gov/) is a semi-public for-profit corporation run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. It pays prisoners 23 cents an hour to make high-tech electronic components for private defense industry contractors. The number of similar high-tech jobs in the private sector has fallen by 40 percent during the last couple of decades. Other companies exploit prison labor and pay wages significantly lower than those paid by Unicor. Defenders of employee rights see this as a return to slave labor, which apart from being immoral hurts the wages of free workers.
Study NAFTA and the other major free-trade agreements. What is the current Administration’s outlook on these deals? Are more in the pipeline? Does your research show that these laws are good or bad for U.S. workers, or is the situation more complicated?
Look into the modern U.S. prison labor industry. How big is it? Are the wages really as low as indicated in the assignment? What are supposed to be the social benefits of prison labor? Does your research show that prison labor is a good thing, or is a more like a return to slavery?
Your response to each of these questions should be in the format of a memo, approximately 750 words, for a total of roughly 1500 words.