Nichols and McReynolds file bill to keep prison labor from costing Texans jobs
Austin — Today, state Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) filed companion bills to reform Texas' prison labor program. Nichols and McReynolds first started investigating the program when workers in East Texas lost jobs to prison labor. (Senate Bill 1169 and House Bill 1914)
"Rep. McReynolds and worked for almost two years to eliminate the threat this program poses to the jobs of hardworking Texans," said Nichols. "I believe this bill will finally settle the issue."
McReynolds echoed Nichols sentiment.
"Sen. Nichols and I totally agree that prison labor has no business competing with free world job," said McReynolds. "This legislation, which I will carry in the Texas House and Sen. Nichols will carry in the Texas Senate, will insure that law abiding citizens will never again have to compete for jobs preformed by Texas inmates."
Texas' Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIE program) allows private industry to partner with the prison and employ inmates. While private companies supposedly pays a prevailing wage, they benefit from the use of cheap facilities, a reduced tax burden, and not paying for employee benefits. There are currently five active PIE programs across the state.
One company, Direct Trailer, paid only $1 a year to lease 70,000 square feet of factory space from the prison. Direct Trailer even advertised they could sell their products for less because of a special relationship with the state utilizing inmate labor.
Direct Trailer employed offenders in the Michael Unit at Tennessee Colony to assemble trailers for 18-wheeler trucks. Lufkin Industries, Inc., located about 85 miles from Tennessee Colony, could not compete with Direct Trailer who sold its product for thousands less. Last January, Lufkin Industries closed its trailer manufacturing division, resulting in a loss of 150 jobs.
Senate Bill 1169 and House Bill 1914 would help stop job loss and unfair competition by:
- eliminating sweetheart deals and requiring businesses using prison labor to pay a fair market value for use of facilities
- moving oversight of the program from the Prison Industry Oversight Authority to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) board
- preventing TDCJ from approving contracts resulting in job loss anywhere in Texas
- allowing employers to submit a sworn statement that their business would be hurt and jobs could be lost by approval of a specific prison industry contract
- requiring job and product descriptions be specific so employers can recognize a prison industry contract that would unfairly threaten their business
- creating notification for area businesses and posting information about programs online
- notifying the state senator and state representative in whose districts the project would be located
"Texas businesses employing hard-working, law-abiding men and women already face a number of challenges in this economy," said Nichols. "The last hurdle they should face is a competitor using prison labor."