Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)


February 22, 2012

Power of public opinion can work for good

Feb. 22, 2012 —     National media attention was focused on Olive Hill for about 48 hours last week when it was revealed that 100 garment workers were in danger of losing their jobs.

    Keep in mind that unemployment is the No. 1 political issue in this nation and certainly will be in the spotlight in the upcoming presidential election.

    With that as a backdrop, here’s the rest of the story.

    It seems some bureaucrat in the federal prison system decided that manufacturing dress jackets for the Air Force could be done by prison inmates at far less cost than by the civilian workforce in Olive Hill.

    He wanted to shift the work to Federal Prison Industries (FPI) in the U. S. Bureau of Prisons where inmate laborers are paid 23 cents per hour, according to national news agencies.

    The jackets are a high profile item because President Obama wears one when he flies on Air Force One, as did his predecessors.

    The Olive Hill factory has been making the jackets for 20 years, selling about 70,000 a year to the Air Force. However, the firm’s current contract expires at the end of this year.

    When the CEO of the contracting firm learned of the tentative decision to reserve that work for prisoners, he turned to Kentucky’s U.S. senators for help.

    We have not agreed many times in recent months with the statements and actions of Senators Mitch McConnell but today we are giving credit where credit is due.

    McConnell, the highest ranking Republican in the U. S. Senate, made an issue of the jackets with the national media, calling on President Obama to intervene and save the 100 jobs.

    Fox News jumped on the story like a dog on a bone and suddenly it was everywhere. 

    Michael Mansh, president of the company making the jackets, was interviewed and quoted extensively, saying he couldn’t understand why the President would want to wear something made by a convict instead of an honest, hardworking person from rural Kentucky.

    Mansh even invited the President to come to Olive Hill and talk with the workers who would lose their jobs. We don’t know if he was serious but it was grist for the media mills.

    The story lasted through two 24-hour news cycles before someone at the FPI called McConnell’s office and surrendered, so to speak. They had changed their minds about the jackets.

    We can only imagine what the Obama campaign staff had to say about such a dumb move by the administration in a presidential election year. 

    For the garment workers in Olive Hill to our senior senator, we say thanks.

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