Under pressure from environmentalists and labor unions, California will stop using federal prisoners, paid as little as 20 cents an hour, to dismantle potentially hazardous electronic junk discarded by state bureaucrats, says the Los Angeles Times. The decision to hire a private recycler was disclosed a month after Dell, the nation’s largest computer maker, canceled a similar prison labor deal after being accused of hiring a “high-tech chain gang.”
Now the future of the computer recycling program run by UNICOR, a federal unit that uses prison inmates in business ventures, is in doubt after it seemed poised to become a major player in the emerging business.
With a captive work force of low-paid prisoners, UNICOR was accepting the material for rock-bottom prices. Critics said it was undercutting efforts to launch a recycling industry and taking jobs from law-abiding Americans.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an environmental group, has criticized the federal prison recycling program. The coalition said nmates were using primitive tools to break apart the computers and monitors, exposing themselves to health hazards.