Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sweatshops on US soil: Condoned by the Department of Defense?

For the past couple of days, the Providence Journal has covered a massive federal immigration agent raid at Michael Bianco Inc., a textile plant in New Bedford, MA that had $170 million in contracts to make clothing for the US military. The raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents netted 327 illegal immigrants, and they also arrested members of Bianco's management and charged them with conspiring to hire illegal immigrants.

But I thought the most appalling aspect of the story were the working conditions in the textile plant (link is registration-restricted):

The affidavits allege that [plant owner] Insolia, 50, of Pembroke, Mass., “intentionally seeks out illegal aliens because they are more desperate to find employment and are thus more likely to endure severe workplace conditions he has imposed.” Those conditions allegedly include “docking of pay by 15 minutes for every minute an employee is late; fining employees $20 for spending more than 2 minutes in the restroom and firing for a subsequent infraction; providing one roll of toilet paper per restroom stall per day, typically resulting in the absence of toilet paper after only 40 minutes per day; fining employees $20 for leaving (the) work area before break bell sounds; and fining employees $20 for talking while working and firing for a subsequent infraction.”

Despite the chilly temperatures we're currently enduring here in southern New England, those conditions sound quite sweatshop-like to me.

No matter who is working the job, nobody should be working in sweatshop-like conditions on American soil. The Department of Defense, though, doesn't share my belief. I came to this conclusion after seeing this paragraph buried deep in the Projo's follow-up article to yesterday's raid:

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Army Soldiers System Center in Natick, Mass., a representative from the Department of Defense has an “on-site” office at the plant, where he is charged with inspecting all of the gear that is shipped to the military.

So a textile plant that hires over 300 illegal immigrants, which is blatantly illegal, expressly for the purpose of enforcing working conditions on them, conditions which are also blatantly illegal, had a representative from the Department of Defense -- the federal government -- on premise some of the time to inspecting clothing from the plant.

From what I gather, this representative from the military had absolutely no problem with the working conditions of Bianco, Inc. Which is rather ironic, given that he represents an entity which supposedly fights for freedom in the homeland.


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