On Monday morning New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new brand of hand sanitizer called NYS Clean, which would be manufactured in the state as a way to combat price gouging as a result of COVID-19 panic. The company making the sanitizer, according to Cuomo’s press conference, is Corcraft. By mid-morning, Gothamist had reported on the business: “Corcraft is the brand name for the Division of Correctional Industries, a state-owned company operated by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which runs New York’s prisons.” Adding to the insult, because of the high alcohol content in this and most sanitizers, the incarcerated people at Great Meadow Correctional Facility who will manufacture the product will not even be allowed to use it to protect themselves from the spread of the virus. Not only that, they are being paid less than a dollar per hour to create a high-demand product that Corcraft will turn for a profit.
The minimum wage in the state of New York is between $11 and $15 depending on location, but in prisons, inmates who work as part of their own rehabilitation are paid literal pennies and dimes and have not seen any increase in wages since 1993, according to Gothamist. It remains to be seen how the governor intends to justify the use of what can only be described as slave labor to produce a sanitizer that he rolled out as if it were the latest addition to the Fenty collection.
Last year, according to Gothamist, Cuomo was quoted as supporting a “wage increase” for incarcerated workers, yet that statement has been nothing but an empty platitude. Corcraft’s incarcerated employees are still making less than $2 and they only come close to that amount by maybe earning a “productivity bonus.” Despite the means of production, Cuomo has lauded NYS Clean as a “superior product” to what is already available on the market and warned “Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay” to stop price-gouging once NYS Clean would be put on the market. (Interesting targeting of Jeff Bezos’s labor practices, considering Cuomo’s own supply chain!)
Critics of NYS Clean include Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who tweeted, “Considering that many incarcerated men & women are subjected to inhumane conditions, including no hand soap, & hand sanitizer is banned in most prisons, this is especially demeaning, ironic & exploitive.” Attorneys from the Legal Aid Society have also condemned the use of prison labor in a statement: “These individuals work for less than a dollar a day under threat of punishment – including solitary confinement – if they refuse.” Prison reform advocates are calling on Albany to pass legislation that would guarantee the minimum wage for incarcerated workers, but Cuomo has yet to respond to criticism over NYS Clean likely being unavailable to the community that has manufactured it—or their substandard wages.