Bloomberg Drops Vendor Connected to Prison Labor

Michael R. Bloomberg said on Tuesday that his presidential campaign would no longer work with a vendor after learning of a subcontractor that had been involved in using prison workers to make phone calls on behalf of his candidacy.

Details of the campaign’s connection to prison labor were first reported by The Intercept on Tuesday morning. Hours after the article was published, Mr. Bloomberg posted a statement on Twitter confirming that the article was accurate and saying that his campaign had “immediately ended our relationship” with the companies involved.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign said it cut ties with the companies on Monday after learning about the practices from a reporter for The Intercept. Specifically, Bloomberg officials said the campaign had hired a call-center vendor, which hired a subcontractor, and that subcontractor had hired a company that used prison labor.

“We do not support this practice and we are making sure our vendors more properly vet their subcontractors moving forward,” Mr. Bloomberg’s statement said.

The Bloomberg campaign and The Intercept identified the call-center company using prison workers as Procom, which is based in New Jersey. According to The Intercept’s report, the company runs two call centers in Oklahoma that are operated out of state prisons, and in at least one of the two prisons incarcerated people were contracted to make calls on behalf of Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign.

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign said it had learned that Procom runs a job training program in which prisoners in Oklahoma make calls, but did not elaborate. A campaign official said she was not aware of the exact nature of the calls being made by prison workers.

The Intercept’s report did not name the other companies involved, and the campaign declined to do so.

In a statement, Procom said the inmates it employs “receive marketable job training and skills that allow them to both earn money while they’re incarcerated and position themselves for gainful employment when their prison terms end.”

The company said it paid its “Oklahoma-based employees” the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That money is directed to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which then pays the incarcerated people working in call centers, Procom said, adding that inmates can also qualify for bonus pay. But it was not immediately clear whether the prison workers received the full hourly rate of $7.25.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In any campaign there are a whole host of services that you contract out,” said Brian Brokaw, a political consultant based in California. “So to a certain extent you have to be reliant on your point of contact — to the person that you were working with directly.”

Nowadays, he added, because mistakes are often amplified, “people are going to have to ask a few more questions than they previously had out of an abundance of caution.”

Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire media executive and former mayor of New York City, entered the 2020 Democratic primary race in November — months after most of his rivals — and has since spent millions of dollars of his own money on political advertising and campaign operations that have helped him climb quickly to fifth place in national polling averages.

This month, he released a set of policy proposals focused on criminal justice. Among the initiatives, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to expand federal funding for alternatives to incarceration and for re-entry programs to help those released from prison find employment.

At least one other Democratic presidential candidate took notice of The Intercept’s report. Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, said on Twitter that it underscored the need for his own criminal justice plan, which would “require all prisoners to be paid a fair wage for any labor performed while incarcerated.”

“A concern for people, not profits, should govern our criminal justice policy,” he said.

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