Highly on-brand for a billionaire

The Bloomberg campaign claims to have discontinued this practice, but they were using prison labor to make campaign calls.

Former New York City mayor and multibillionaire Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg used prison labor to make campaign calls. Through a third-party vendor, the Mike Bloomberg 2020 campaign contracted New Jersey-based call center company ProCom, which runs calls centers in New Jersey and Oklahoma. Two of the call centers in Oklahoma are operated out of state prisons. In at least one of the two prisons, incarcerated people were contracted to make calls on behalf of the Bloomberg campaign.

Sweet! It’s good to be in Minnesota, where we’ll be mostly ignored throughout the campaign season, but it must be reassuring to Iowans to know that some of the election noise they get dunned with is produced by slave labor.

Oh, not quite slavery: the prisoners get paid, sort of.

John Scallan, a ProCom co-founder, said his company pays the Oklahoma minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which then pays the incarcerated people working in the call centers. The Department of Corrections website lists the maximum monthly wage for the incarcerated at $20 dollars a month, but another policy document says there is a maximum pay of $27.09 per month.

When asked if their total monthly earnings are capped at these levels, Scallan said incarcerated people who work for ProCom make far higher wages. “I can tell you unequivocally that is not us,” Scallan said. “Some of them are making that much every day.”

Let’s do the math. $7.25 an hour is $58 per day; if they work them 4 weeks per month, that would be about $1100 dollars per month, which isn’t much of a wage. But the prisons cap their earnings and skim off most of the money. In the worst case of limiting them to $20/month, the prison is making $1080 off their labor. In the best case, where they’re getting paid $27/day, the prison gets about half their earnings.

I wonder if there is some kind of profit motive driving mass incarceration in the United States? Nah, couldn’t be. That would be evil. This Republican, for instance, wouldn’t be evil, would he?


  1. says

    We need to amend the 13th Amendment:

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

  2. jrkrideau says

    I wonder what other countries explicitly countenance slavery in their laws or constitutions ?

  3. jrkrideau says

    I understand that California convict firefighters (The prisoners earn between $2.90 and $5.12 per day, plus an additional $1 per hour during active emergency) can not get firefighting jobs in California after release. Duh.

    This year, maybe Australia will jobs. Can a US ex-con get a US passport?

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ PZ
    I think you are assuming an eight hour day, five days a week. Why not 10hr/6day or 12hr/6 or 7 day weeks? Depending on billing practices ProCom might never notice.

  5. Jazzlet says

    jrkrideau @#3
    Australia has pretty strict rules about letting people who have served time in to the country, IIRC you can’t even visit Australia if you’ve been in prison for a year.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Well this is sickening. So much for Bloomberg.

    I don’t know much about him aside from seeing his ads, but is Steyer that bad aside from his wealth? I have skimmed the wikipedia on him and see he opposes Medicare for All which may be a negative. I’m kinda in the Never Biden camp and wonder if Steyer is better or worse. I’d lean toward Warren or Sanders but really have been avoiding deep dives into the candidates.

  7. Susan Montgomery says

    @4 I think you meant: “ProCom might never be in a position where they can’t plausibly deny they knew damn well what was going on.”

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    I wonder if there is some kind of profit motive driving mass incarceration in the United States?

    Hey! At least they’re slaves for good old, freedom loving, American capitalism rather being slaves to godless, socialist, Big Guvment, ya dirty commie!

  9. hemidactylus says

    Shouldn’t there be a normative fiduciary corporate imperative to converge prisoners from very low wage earners into slaves without pay as this maximizes Almighty Profitability and takes shareholder interest as the Summum Bonum? It is compliant with the 13th Amendment so therefore not constitutionally wrong. Unlike totalitarian dictatorships with their gulags our prison industry is guided by the principles of entrepreneurship and free enterprise. All hail the market and its totalizing effect on people.

  10. says

    On Steyer- he has never had a real shot at the nomination, but he’s been spending tens of millions on his campaign. Billionaires are in the rare position to cause real change at a fairly large scale without political office, but rather than spending those millions on affordable housing, or installing solar panels, or debt forgiveness, or replacing lead pipes, or a thousand other things, he’s spending them on a campaign that’s little more than a vanity project.

    He may be a decent person as billionaires go, but if he really wanted to help he could do so without running for president, in a way that very few others could. Same goes for Bloomberg.

  11. fishy says

    Bloomberg is just trying to kill this crazy idea of taxing him a little more in order to make a better society for everyone. That makes him a piece of shit akin to Donny.
    Steyer is the same.
    They both have stupid ideas. Steyer, for example, likes to tout term limits. What moron thinks Government is the only occupation where experience doesn’t matter? I guess the answer to that would be Tom Steyer who has no experience in government.
    It’s very convenient.

  12. hemidactylus says

    Steyer has advocated a wealth tax:

    That was over a year ago. Yet:

    *“Steyer’s support for a wealth tax on America’s top 1% of earners runs contrary to many of his billionaire peers, who have slammed proposals from the Democratic field as being a punitive redistribution of wealth.

    He said his support for the tax comes from meeting people all over the country on the campaign trail, many of whom were unable to afford medicine and suffered from cut wages.

    “People are talking about this is a redistribution of wealth,” Steyer said. “I’ve got news: The last 40 years was a redistribution of wealth in the United States in an incredibly inequitable but silent fashion.””*

    Unlike a certain someone he released tax returns that invite scrutiny but he has rolled money, similar perhaps to Soros, to wearing his politics on his sleeve.


    He’s not Trump or the Kochs but that’s a very low bar. I don’t yet feel like riding him out on a rail, but hesitant on thinking him worthy of consideration. There was part of me who wanted to see former prosecutor and curmudgeon who bulldogged Biden Kamala Harris at least debate Trump.

  13. vucodlak says

    This is one of my pet peeves:

    Oh, not quite slavery: the prisoners get paid, sort of.

    Slavery is not merely unpaid labor. Slavery is labor performed under duress. Historically, it’s been fairly common for slaves to be paid something for their labor. It doesn’t mean they weren’t slaves.

    If you have to do a job which principally benefits other persons who have substantially greater wealth than you’ll ever see because your only alternative is something much, much worse (often death for yourself and your family from starvation or illness), you’re a slave. It’s the lack of choice that makes one a slave, not the lack of compensation.

    In the case of most prison inmates, their choices usually boil down to: work or spend 23 hours a day in a tiny box. It wouldn’t matter if they were pulling down $200 an hour, because “work a shitty job or be tortured” isn’t much of a choice.

    The idea that slavery=unpaid labor is pure capitalist bullshit. It’s the lie we’re taught in schools because the truth would lead to some very uncomfortable conclusions about USian society in particular and capitalism in general.

    Oh, and Bloomberg can fuck right off. I will vote for almost anyone against Trump, but even I can’t swallow a turd as big as Bloomberg.

  14. hemidactylus says

    200 dollars/hr…40 hrs week…52 weeks

    416K. Hmmm…morality would kick in at some point but I would sacrifice a couple years for them wages. I’d consider overtime. What would I be doing?

  15. vucodlak says

    @ hemidactylus

    What would I be doing?

    Well, considering the example I’m going off of is prisoners doing forced labor, you’ll be doing whatever you’re told to do.

    You will get up at the same time every day, no matter what. If you don’t get up, you will be beaten, and then you will be locked in an even smaller cage for an indefinite period of time. You will go to bed at the same time every day, no matter what. If you don’t go to bed, you will be beaten, and then you will be locked in an even smaller cage for an indefinite period of time. You will go to work when you are told to work, no matter what. If you don’t go to work, you will be beaten, and then…

    Oh, and you won’t “consider” overtime. You will work overtime if you are told to work overtime. I hardly need to tell you what will happen if you refuse. Don’t expect it to appear on your paycheck, either.

    When you’re not working, you can spend your leisure time staring at the walls of your little cell. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get a couple of books to read a week. Your meals will consist of technically edible slop served in a packed cafeteria, to be eaten in the company of some of the worst people humanity has to offer. Your fellow inmates will be there too. You’ll have no privacy at any time, the guards will regularly abuse you, and there’s a strong chance that you’ll be sexually assaulted by your fellow inmates. Don’t worry about the possibility that the guards will sexually assault you- that’s a certainty. It’s standard operating procedure.

    If it still sounds like putting up with all that might be worthwhile for the chance to make $416,000 per year, keep in mind that you will be charged roughly $415,760 a year for accommodations and amenities.

  16. jack16 says

    @1 cervantes
    ANY amendment requires a political situation that is virtually impossible! Rather than waste freethought space direct attention to more practicable approaches.


  17. DanDare says

    Steyer’s behaviour in campaigning comes across as similar to Oz’s Clive Palmer in the last election. Spend big for personal reasons and muddy the waters with the electorate to obscure various signals. No intent of a real win.