Ron Johnson uses inmate labor at his plants

Scott Bauer of the AP is reporting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson employs inmates from the Wisconsin State Prison system at two of his plants in Oshkosh:

Public records show that Pacur Inc. and Dynamic Drinkware LLC, two companies run by Johnson, employ up to nine inmates at a time through a state Corrections Department jobs program.

Johnson’s companies offer private health insurance to the regular employees at the Oshkosh factories. But Melissa Roberts, an executive assistant with the Corrections Department, said the companies don’t have to cover the inmate workers. “The benefit is that they don’t have to pay health benefits,” she said.

Health industry statistics indicate that companies spend an average of about $10,000 per worker a year for insurance.

The Johnson campaign said the candidate was not available to comment Friday because he was preparing for his debate later that evening with Feingold. But campaign spokeswoman Sara Sendek said his companies hire inmates as a public service.

Saving money “was not a factor by any means,” she said. “The factor was, this is a way to help put these people on the path back to recovery so they could contribute and work their way back into society.”

Democrats were quick to attack Johnson’s practice of hiring inmates at his plants, with Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate saying, “Instead of employing hardworking Wisconsinites he’s employing prisoners.” Tate added, “It’s another example of him taking advantage of government programs to help his bottom line. It’s the height of hypocrisy for someone who claims to be a job creator.”

While I’ve been critical of Ron Johnson on any number of occasions, in this instance I actually applaud Ron Johnson for giving a chance to individuals who in many cases are shunned by society. While Jason Haas of Haas414 brings up a valid point about whether Johnson hires former inmates upon their release from prison, I’d argue that whether Johnson hires former inmates or not, giving current inmates a chance to build a work history and put away money to be used towards their (hopefully successful) reintegration into society. Whatever Ron Johnson’s motivation for hiring inmate workers may be, giving inmates a chance that they may not have otherwise had is good for the inmates and good for society.


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18 thoughts on “Ron Johnson uses inmate labor at his plants

  1. My first reaction when reading this post was: “Great, Feingold supports are going to rip on this even though if it were a Democrat doing the same thing they’d laud it and Johnson supports are going to defend him and sing his praises even though they’d rip on a Democrat doing the same thing.

    Kudos to you Zach on going against the grain on this one. It’s not easy to maintain a consistent set of principles and support someone on a particular issue even if you disagree with them on many others. Which is probably why it’s so rare it’s depressing.

  2. While i think its great that he hires them also, my question would be, how much of Pacur hiring inmates did he have a hand in?

  3. Wisconsin has had a work-release program like this for decades. I’ve worked in a foundry next to an inmate ready to be released. It is a very good program. Employers may save a few bucks (though I doubt they save much), but the important part is starting prisoners back to civilian life.

    Remind me never to vote for Mike Tate for anything if he ever runs.

    1. I only wish more employers would give inmates (or former inmates) a chance, because if they did we’d probably see a lot more success stories from among the ranks of the convicted.

      1. I definitely agree with the philosophy – helping them find decent, legal employment goes a long, long way towards helping keep them out of prison. Which makes it sound and prudent financially.

        That’s said, there’s certainly a problem. When you have two people who both need a job, other things being equal, how do you ever give it to the guy who served time over the one who didn’t? Not that people don’t deserve second chances – but like mealtime, not until after everybody’s had a first serving.

        Yet another hidden cost of high unemployment.

        1. I certainly see your point, but at the same time, why should we discriminate against folks just because they’ve been convicted. If we can keep convicts from reoffending and ending up back in prison – where they become a drain on our tax dollars – then that’s a good thing.

          1. I certainly see your point, but at the same time, why should we discriminate against folks just because they’ve been convicted.

            I know, it’s a tricky issue, and again everyone is best served if we can help get them employed. But employers sure should be able to discriminate based on a criminal record, just not categorically. Generally, you shouldn’t be able to reject all applicants simply because of conviction – unless it’s a legitimate requirement of the job. There are plenty of examples we can all agree on – pedophiles shouldn’t be hired to work with children, drunk drivers shouldn’t be hired to drive buses, etc.

            I hate to make the same point over, when two or more applicants apply, a criminal record most certainly should be allowed to be considered comparatively. No differently than dropping out of high school or college, a history of quitting or being fired from jobs or anything else. An employer should always have the right to hire a better qualified applicant. In most cases, that’s the person who didn’t get convicted breaking a law. It’s unfair to hold a mistake against a person forever or to not give him a job because of it. But it’s even more unfair to not give a job to a person because the other guy made the mistake.

            1. But you’re assuming that an individual with a criminal record – by virtue of that criminal record – can’t be as qualified as an individual without a criminal record for the same job.

              1. I don’t believe I’m assuming that at all. I’m simply saying that it isn’t right to not let employers consider it. It should be a factor, but one of many. If the job is home construction & one guy served time but otherwise as a good work history including time framing houses and even some finish carpentry, and the other guy has neither the record, nor the experience, the first guy deserves the opportunity. If neither guy has done the job before, and they have similar references, then you can’t fault somebody for hiring the guy with the clean record.

                It’s a fine line, but there is a difference between discriminating against someone with a record and having a preference for someone without.

  4. I think the program itself is a good thing, and it’s nice to hear employers like PACUR being part of it. If the goal of prison is to rehabilitate, doesn’t it make sense to have inmates learn skills that might make them employable when they get out and therefore less likely to make the decisions that would send them back to the slam.

    The problem with RoJo is that yet again, the actions don’t match his rhetoric. When you’re railing against gov’t subisidies, you shouldn’t be taking them. We don’t really care that Ron Johnson’s (inherited) company takes advantage of a government program- in business you take any edge you can. But be honest about it and stop posing about how you’re such a “self-made man.” I don’t get why GOPs have such a problem with admitting they took advantage of a situation and don’t want to spread around the chance of others doing the same.

    1. I agree Jake, the government can be used for many good things and the repubs arent scared to use it to line their own pockets. All the while railing on the evil of government.

  5. The issue is hypocrisy. Ron Johnson’s company is benefiting from not having to pay tens of thousands in health care costs for these government-subsidized workers. I support the program, but I’m not out there railing against health care reform and saying government doesn’t have a role in growing the economy. Johnson wants it both ways, and this is just another reason that we should re-elect Russ Feingold.

  6. I too will give Zach credit where credit is due. Just because Johnson may have something, or a couple somethings, to gain out of hiring inmate workers doesn’t make it a bad thing. Doesn’t make him hypocritical either. Nothing wrong with a win-win situation.

  7. I agree with Sachin, its a great program and its pure hypocrisy on ROJO’s part, according to how he has run his campaign. Unless of course he is running his campaign dishonestly to pander to the base…

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