Even though it has made significant environmental health and safety improvements over the last several years, persistent complaints regarding UNICOR’s e-scrap processing operations have now prompted new federal legislation targeting the company.
House Resolution 3634, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R — Michigan), would eliminate the mandatory source preference currently enjoyed by Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (the government-owned company providing inmate-work programs that operates under the name UNICOR) and force the company to compete for federal contracts. Additionally, the bill would immediately raise wages paid to inmate workers to 50 percent of the minimum wage rate outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and would increase to 100 percent of the minimum wage rate by 2017. The resolution also imposes federal occupational health and safety standards on UNICOR’s industrial operations. UNICOR produces a wide range of goods and services other than the recycling of scrap electronics, including manufacturing furniture, clothing and apparel and even staffing call centers.
“FPI is a Goliath with revenues of more than $885 million annually and is the 36th largest federal contractor by gross sales,” reads a statement on Huizenga’s website. “It pays down to 23 cents per hour and is exempt from Social Security, unemployment compensation, and worker’s compensation insurance taxes, as well as some worker safety regulations. Small businesses simply cannot go toe-to-toe against this large, government-owned corporation.”
While the bill has not seen significant action since being referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in January, it has generated a growing list of 24 cosponsors and prompted a recent statement from Rep. Huizenga, urging passage.