Thursday, July 23, 2015

Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers

The news around here, as it probably is in your part of the country, is living wages. The unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County will be the latest areas that will eventually require a "living wage" of $15 per hour.

However, no living wage ordinance can fully affect wages. While the people who work in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County will get the wage, people who work for suppliers outside the county will not.

And I'm not just talking about workers outside the United States.

(A little secret: if you want illegal immigration to the U.S. to dry up, just use NAFTA or some other vehicle to require Mexico to pay a living wage of $15 per hour. Of course, then Mexico will get all sorts of illegal immigrants from Central America.)

I don't know if Whole Foods Markets has any stores in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, but Whole Foods happens to sell tilapia. Yes, vegans are outraged, but Whole Foods sells tilapia. Whole Foods (at least in New York) sells tilapia that comes from a family-owned firm called Quixotic Farming.

Quixotic Farming is an environmentally conscious, family-owned company that raises Tilapia without the use of chemicals or hormones in Colorado and Missouri. The company began when its owner discovered the benefits of a fish raised in the United States that can be traced from our farms to your plate. Our fish thrive in an amazing filtration and recirculation system that gives our Tilapia a cleaner taste, and your family a safer choice for fish.

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

But there's a catch - some of the U.S. based workers who construct the fish tanks and raise the fish are sometimes pay $4 an hour...and sometimes $0.74 an hour.

How is that legal?

Simple. They're prison inmates:

Quixotic Farming, a family-owned tilapia farming company with farms in Colorado and Missouri, pays Colorado to have inmates construct fish tanks and then raise tilapia for it. The department gets 85 cents a pound for the tilapia. Quixotic then sells to vendors. Tilapia was being sold for $11.99 a pound at Whole Foods on a recent day in New York. Inmates are paid as little as 74 cents to as high as $4 a day.

The program is defended because it teaches inmates valuable skills, cuts the recidivism rate, and makes a little money for the prison system to boot. But others aren't happy.

Alex Friedmann of Prison Legal News and a prisoner rights' advocate said, "It's basically exploiting prisoner's labor. It's strictly exploitation from our perspective."

It should be noted that Whole Foods is not the only company that sells products from Quixotic Farming. HyVee also sells its products. And, of course, this isn't the only farming product that is produced by prison labor.

Do prison laborers deserve a living wage? Or should that be reduced because they have the "benefit" of free housing?

And if Jameis Winston ever gets in trouble again, will he end up working for a prison crab legs supplier?
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