Protesters urge UO to stop contracting prisoners to work at school, say practice is slavery

Five small groups of students at the University of Oregon protested on Tuesday the school’s practices of contracting prisoners to work at the school. Within an hour, police stopped the protest with warnings that students were violating rules.

The protests at 1 p.m. appeared at multiple locations on campus, and they were organized by University of Oregon Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). Protesters held banners reading, “UO USES PRISON SLAVERY” at two locations in the EMU, on the roof of Mckenzie, Lillis Hall and 13th Avenue and University Street.

The group demands that the University of Oregon cancels all current contracts with the Oregon Corrections Enterprises, a semi-independent state program that connects private and public organizations with prisoners.

The Emerald sent a list of eight claims in the pamphlets that were handed out by the protesters to the OCE. The OCE responded to each one refuting all the claims.

For example, the OCE stated that it has no current contracts with the school, although it has worked with UO in the past. “UO has periodically submitted purchase orders to OCE for specific products and installation services. The only time AICs are on UO grounds is when they are delivering or installing products,” according to OCE in a written statement.

All of the banners in the EMU that the protesters held up violated rules of the school’s protesting policy. (Hannah Kanik/Daily Emerald)

The OCE also disagreed with the statement that laborers are forced to work. “All assignments with OCE are voluntary assignments. No AIC [adult in custody] is forced to participate in an OCE program.”

One protester named Jamie, who didn’t give her last name, told The Emerald that the campaign is meant to expose the school’s profits from “slave labor” from the prisoners.

“The UO has huge contracts with Oregon Corrections Enterprise which is the corporation that sells and makes contracts with universities like this one to profit off of the prison labor,” Jamie said. “Our campaign is essentially advocating for those folks in poor conditions that are working for very little in unethical circumstances.”

One protester who goes by Martin said that by employing prisoners, the school is displaying “modern slavery and the University has sponsored it by providing this organization millions of dollars.”

Protesters in the EMU were approached by UOPD officer Justin Gardner and a manager of the EMU after about 30 minutes. They were informed that they were not allowed to hold their banner in that location. Officer Gardner told protesters said that they could be escorted out of the EMU because they had not reserved a space for signage and the space they were in was not reservable.

Martin said he was unhappy with the school’s handling of the protest by warning that they were in a non-reservable space.

The Emerald could not reach any protesters for further comment.

This article was corrected to state that only the banners in the EMU were violating UO’s protesting policy, and the statement that the school “employs” prisoners was changed to reflect that the school “contracts” the prisoners through a program.

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Francisca "Frankie" Benitez

Francisca "Frankie" Benitez

Francisca "Frankie" Benitez is the Senior News Editor at the Emerald. She is a Senior at the UOSOJC and a lover of dogs and punk rock.

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