Incarcerated Workers Will Be Heard: Protecting the Right to Unionize Prisoners Through Dignity

Richter, Samuel | April 6, 2024

This Comment posits that incarcerated workers possess an inherent right to unionize pursuant to human dignity. Centering dignity in this discussion highlights the ways in which prisoners’ unions secure the economic and political conditions needed to express their autonomy and foster rehabilitation. By reviewing the historical successes and missteps of the incarcerated workers’ labor movement in the United States, this Comment demonstrates that an appreciation for dignity is crucial to prevent factional violence between incarcerated people on the one hand and the over-professionalization of prisoner organization on the other. Recognizing that unionization is a matter of dignity, not free speech or existing labor law statutes, also provides a more cohesive legal framework for extending the right to unionize to incarcerated workers. The right to dignity structures foundational constitutional principles and appeals to the benefits unionization offers to both incarcerated and nonincarcerated workers. In this way, the right to dignity provides a workable legal structure for understanding incarcerated workers’ right to unionize.