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Conference and workshops aim to show how slavery reinvented itself in the South

Loyola press release - February 23, 2015

To draw attention to the challenges of workers’ rights and examine the historical context of low-wage workers in the South, the Workplace Justice Project at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law will charge $7.25, the federal minimum wage, as the fee for the second day of their “Work in the South” conference next month. In January of this year, 20 states raised their minimum wage above the federal level, while Louisiana was one of five southern states without even a state minimum wage.

“Work in the South: Dixie Cotton, American Steel and a Hurricane Named Katrina - A Reinvention of Bondage,” takes place at the College of Law Friday, March 6 and Saturday March 7. The first day is free to attend. Nevertheless, registration is required.

The purpose of the conference is to examine the current economic, legal and political terrain for low-wage workers in the South as well as for the advocates and the organizers who work with and for them, with a special focus on what makes this region of the country particularly challenging for the development and realization of workers’ rights.

Panels and workshops include: “Building the Low-Wage Work State Since WWII”; “What’s Next for Low-Wage Workers?;” “Power Analysis: The Need for a Race Conscious Approach to Solutions;” and “Litigation Strategies and Unions.”

“The Southern economy was built and prospered from the enslavement and oppression of African slaves. It's a disturbing misconception, however, that the South's dependency on ‘free labor’ ceased to exist with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and that the Southern elite readily conformed to its principles,” said Andrea M. Agee, J.D., staff attorney at the College of Law’s, Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, Workplace Justice Project which is organizing the event.

The keynote speaker is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Douglas Blackmon, author of “Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to WWII.” Blackmon will address the historical context for the conference as to why workers in the South are more vulnerable than workers in other regions. Agee and others at the Workplace Justice Project believe this vulnerability stems from the lack of unions, lower or no minimum wage standards and still thriving convict leasing and peonage, or debt servitude, which were both abolished, but continue to thrive in other forms.

“Today, the legacy of slavery and the peonage system lives on within the prison labor industry. Through the modern penal system, corporations and governments clear millions of dollars in profit a year by exploiting prison labor,” Agee said.

For more information, contact Workplace Justice Project Staff Attorney Andrea M. Agee at 504-861 5501.