Checking Out

Date Written:  2016-09-07
Publisher:  Insurgent Notes
Year Published:  2016
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20261

In mid-June of 2016, tension between workers and their boss in a small New York City retail shop reached the boiling point. The result was chaos for a hated overseer, and the sweet aftertaste of an assertion of people power all too rare in their line of work.



For the workplace organizer, a mass quitting is usually an option of last resort. If your aim is to build collective power in your shop, the last thing you want is the most militant, or even belligerent workers to leave without a fight, which they usually do anyway, one by one, without anyone organizing it. But this is no ordinary shop. It is a commissary in the Eric M. Taylor Center (EMTC, formerly known as C-76) at New York City's notorious Rikers Island correctional facility, where inmates shop for basic necessities not provided by the jail. These workers are themselves inmates, and their boss was a corrections officer with nearly unbridled power over their lives. At work or back at home in their dormitories, inmates at EMTC are carefully monitored for being "influential," for their alleged gang affiliations, and for being a bit too quick to stand up for themselves. They are routinely moved around the facility both deliberately and randomly, with no appeal possible. They are kept silent in the hallways and deliberately segregated from other prisoners as a means of limiting communication. No matter what kinship defies these strictures, the average stay for a prisoner is just under two months, so the turnover in Rikers dorms is even higher than the most unbearable retail or fast food job on the outside.
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