Layoffs Continue While Inmates Get The Goods

June 5, 2002
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The Business Furniture Manufacturers Association International reported this month that orders fell 17 percent in March alone (see Grand Rapids Business Journal May 7). Mike Regan, BIFMA manager of statistical services noted, “That’s an ‘ouch,’” but significant injury was added last week when the Federal Prison Industries delivered furniture (one month late) to the new U.S. Social Security Administration office in Holland.

Holland is home to the third-largest office furniture manufacturer in the world, Haworth, which for the first time in its 53-year history completed permanent elimination of 183 positions the week of April 30. Just down the street, Zeeland based Herman Miller laid off 150 people, and just up I 196, Steelcase projects it may have to lay off 1,000 employees in June if industry orders continue to plummet.

Regan noted the industry is “pretty much at the mercy of the general economy,” but such is not the case for the Federal Prison Industries. U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, seized the right moment last week when the SSA office opened its doors 30 days late. Hoekstra noted, “(The Federal Prison Industries) will grow because it does not have to compete for the business.”

Only Government can be so dense. While President George Bush bemoans the current economic conditions, up to 1,200 people in the Furniture City area alone may have to queue up for unemployment benefits. These same individuals and businesses have most recently paid their federal taxes, some of which now benefit the federal prisoners who are employed.

Hoekstra has slowly been able to create bi-partisan efforts to force the Prison Industries to compete for these jobs in the same manner businesses must compete. Currently it has a monopoly in supplying federal agencies with all types of products, from furniture to electronics. Perhaps this time, in this economy, after so savagely cruel a sequence of events in Holland, Hoekstra may be able to make his point once and for all. The Congressman currently has legislation pending in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, which would eliminate the mandatory source status but allow FPI to target business ventures that import products to the United States and are made overseas.

Meanwhile, the federal prison population is increasing, and the FPI is attempting to move into new markets to provide additional opportunities for those additions – including “new economy” business. It is a move which obviously further impairs private businesses and employment, and is as ludicrous as suggesting that job hunters find employment by becoming federal prisoners.

It is said insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

Hoekstra must be heard.

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