How to Turn Back a Giant

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Negin Owliaei Our Future

What’s the best way to push profit-seeking corporations out of the public sphere? Don’t let them take over in the first place. Residents of Lancaster County, Penn. were thrilled to learn this lesson with their recent victory against Geo Group, a giant of the private prison industry.

Geo Group has gained notoriety for its shady practices, with a rap sheet as varied as the so-called services it provides. Geo has turned into a household name in recent weeks for profiting off the youth and family detention centers that have become hallmarks of President Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies. But the company’s heinous practices predate Trump — though their highly suspect lobbying relationship with the current administration is well-documented.

The private prison profiteers have misspent millions in federal funds, only to manage facilities that one federal judge called “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” Despite their abhorrent track record, Geo has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal government contracts in the last year, with a staggering $9.7 million lining the pockets of CEO George Zoley in 2017.

In Lancaster County, Geo found a smaller target than the family detention centers currently at the top of the headlines. The company was bidding to take over the reentry services the county provided to formerly incarcerated people as they left the prison system. Unfortunately for Geo, Lancaster County already had an established reentry program. A coalition of nonprofits known as the Reentry Management Organization had been providing community-led reintegration services with documented success.

But those nonprofits, which were funded on an ad-hoc basis, were left in the dust when the county decided to change the funding process to a bidding-style competition. A whirlwind of changing standards and priorities, along with opaque proposal processes, left the nonprofits confused, as the services they’d long provided were no longer aligned with the  county’s goals. Meanwhile, Geo Group capitalized, putting forward the only bid to provide parolee services.

The company had been circling Lancaster for some time, Michelle Hines, an organizer with Lancaster Stands Up, said. Lancaster residents were surprised and angry to learn that local nonprofits might be replaced by prison profiteers, and leapt into action, planning town halls and packing prison board meetings to protect a valuable community institution.

“I don’t think they were expecting to have to make this decision in the light of day,” Hines said. “Municipal government stuff, people don’t usually pay attention. There’s usually like two people at the county commissioner’s meetings. I don’t think they expected such a community response — or, as they called it, a distraction.”

People filled the commissioner’s meetings — religious leaders, nonprofit leaders, formerly incarcerated citizens — as the normally empty gatherings turned into standing room only events. Hines says the furor was a testament to how negatively the community felt about Geo Group, but also how well local nonprofits were functioning in that space for years. “They had a level of service that could only come from people in the community that really, really care.”

“I didn’t know these local organizations before and how successful they were, but I did know Geo Group and that it’s a bad company,” Hines said, citing her concerns over for-profit prisons in general, and Geo’s contract to build controversial immigrant family detention centers in particular. “I know I’ve lived in Lancaster my whole life and I don’t want them in my county.”

Neither did many people in Lancaster. The mass attention to the proposed contract took county commissioners by surprise. Ultimately, the county was swayed by the display of distrust in Geo. While the next steps remain unclear, the county rejectedthe company’s bid to manage the reentry program at a packed town meeting earlier this month. While Hines and other members of the community are still pushing the county to let the local nonprofits maintain control over the reentry program, they’re celebrating Geo’s denial.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Campaign for America's Future

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work