The Issues with Aramark Continue to Mount5 More Aramark Employees Kicked Out Of State Prisons, MCSC Unimpressed
The number of stop orders issued to Aramark employees has increased -- by five -- since the state fined the company for multiple contract violations, a prison official told the Michigan Civil Service Commission (MCSC) today.
Russ MARLAN, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC), underwent tough questioning from MCSC members who expressed concern about the quality of Aramark's performance so far and the DOC's response to the issues.
Before Marlan addressed the MCSC, representatives from unions and of Sen. Tom CASPERSON (R-Escanaba) informed the MCSC of their concerns with the private food service woes documented by MIRS last week (See "DOC Tells Food Provider To Shape Up Or Ship Out," 3/11/14).
Nick CIARAMITARO; director of legislation and public policy for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 25; and Mel GRIESHABER, executive director for the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), both asked the MCSC to reject the contract.
"Halt this travesty before it becomes a tragedy," Ciaramitaro said, who represents the union whose 300-plus members working in prison food service lost their jobs when Aramark replaced them in October 2013.
Grieshaber told the MCSC the stop orders issued to Aramark employees had increased recently. He mentioned a food service worker who allegedly threw a party for a prisoner getting ready to go out on parole. The celebration included a cake Grieshaber said.
Marlan didn't address the prisoner party allegation, but did say the total number of stop orders issued to Aramark workers is now at 37, up from the 32 disciplined workers mentioned in the Feb. 27 DOC letter to Aramark and first reported March 11.
Marlan told MCSC the new total was 36 but told MIRS later today another stop order had been issued since the meeting, bringing it now to 37.
Ciaramitaro told the MCSC "you can count on one hand the number of state food service employees that were banned from state prisons in the last five years."
When asked about this, Marlan said he looked into that number and said there had been 19 state union workers issued stop orders in five years. He said that number is from cases that made it up to the DOC discipline coordinator level.
Marlan told the MCSC the company has since issued a statement pledging to do better. Plus, Marlan said DOC officials now meet with the contract manager weekly to discuss any violations in the contract and that DOC Director Dan HEYNS personally calls the executive vice president of Aramark each week to discuss those issues.
However, civil service commissioners still grilled Marlan about Aramark's performance.
Commissioner Charles BLOCKETT Jr. asked Marlan what was wrong with the services provided by the state employees prior to the privatization.
Marlan said he didn't think anything was wrong with their service and reminded Blockett the DOC was required to put out a request for proposal (RFP) for food services in its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget.
"Is cheaper better?" Blockett asked Marlan, referring to the savings expected as a result of the privatization.
"If the level of service is the same or enhanced, and the taxpayers can see savings, that's what we'll do," Marlan replied.
But Blockett persisted, first asking Marlan if he was familiar with the Yugo.
Marlan said he was familiar, and Blockett replied, "A Yugo is cheaper. A Ford is better. Is the quality of service that we want to have -- the value of a Yugo -- become the standard we are striving for?"
"Sir, we're going to make sure the quality is where we want. That's what we're doing every single day," Marlan shot back.
Blockett later told Marlan public health and safety should be taken into consideration when deciding contracts.
Commissioner Robert SWANSON asked Marlan how the fines were determined. Swanson suggested the $98,000 fine that DOC slapped Aramark with is not a large penalty in the context of the $145 million awarded under the contract.
When asked about that point after the meeting, Marlan said the fines "definitely drew their attention," adding that Aramark ordered additional training for their employees.
Marlan told the MCSC it's too early to tell if Aramark's struggles are growing pains are more systematic. When asked when DOC will know when it's one or the other, Marlan told MIRS, "We don't have an exact date on that, yet."
While the MCSC did approve the original disbursement of the contract, it's the DOC managing the contract.
The MCSC approved the disbursement for the contract, which would run the length of the contract until July 2018, said Matthew FEDORCHUK in an email, spokesperson for the MCSC. The contract at that time would again come up for review and possible approval by the MCSC.
But AFSCME and the Michigan Association of Governmental Employees (MAGE) appealed the MCSC staff's original approval to disburse funds for the Aramark contract. That appeal is still in front of MCSC, Fedorchuk said, and the MCSC was scheduled to meet in closed session today after its meeting for the purpose of appeals.
Below are earlier articles regarding Food Service Supervisors and Aramark Issues:
We warned them this would happen. We had a number of your legislators come to the Civil Service Commission meeting and testify. I testified. Various MAGE members testified, all to no avail.
We told them that trying to pay non-professionals to do work that trained Department of Corrections employees should be doing would backfire in many ways.
We told them that allowing profiteers to provide the service inevitably results in short cuts and inappropriate money saving schemes.
Click here to read the letter sent to Aramark regarding the fines and details about the violations.
Well, it's happening. Please see the article below and keep sending those examples of abuses to the MAGE office.
Corrections Fines Aramark Over Meals Substitution
The Department of Corrections is fining the company that took over meals operations at state prisons a total of $98,000 for two breaches of its contract with the state.
The department notified Aramark, the company handling prison meals, of the fines in two separate letters. One sent late in February; the second sent last week.
The largest violation has to do with Aramark substituting meals or not preparing the appropriate number of meals. The department said in a letter to the firm it was being fined a total of $86,000 on those violations; $26,000 for substituting meals and $60,000 for not preparing the appropriate number of meals.
Then, Aramark is also being fined $12,000 for a number of incidents in which corporate employees violated departmental rules and demonstrated overfamiliarity with different prisoners. The letter said there were 12 different instances of the violations.
An Earlier Article From June 2013
ALGER COUNTY -- Senator Tom Casperson began by stating he's "disappointed" in how things have turned out.
The senator said the decision made to privatize food service in the Michigan Department of Corrections is about saving money, however, he doesn't feel decision makers in Lansing compared "apples to apples."
The new company, ARAMARK, is out of Philadelphia so "local vendors" will also going to take a hit under the new deal.
"That wasn't factored in," the Senator believes.
Food service director for Ojibwa Corrections, Mike Deshambo, admitted that there are financial "problems," but they have solutions to "fix them."
"We can save $530,000 a month already," he added.
Alan Quattrin, president of the Michigan Association of Governmental Employees, told Casperson in the meeting that he believes this is politically motivated.
"We can show all kinds of ways we can save money, but they won't let us. It's not about money; it's about politics," Quattrin chimed in. "It takes effect October 1. What do we do about these people who are losing their jobs?" he asked the Senator.
"I'm going to meet with the governor's strategic affairs advisor and suggest that any openings in corrections, these people need to be priority, and if there's any state openings, they get priority. They also need to look at if there are people close to retirement to buy them out," Casperson responded. "But I'm not ready to quit yet because this is not right."
Tom Tylutki, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), told Casperson the employees "are more than a food service."
"When the bell rings, they have a job to help lockdown the place. If they think they're just cooking, they're wrong. They're responsible for a whole variety of things, and we are worried about the security of the prison," stated Tylutki.
The food service employees said they respond to riots or violence as do the guards and said ARAMAEK employees are not going to be allowed.
The workers then turned the topic to their menus which are state regulated. They say ARAMARK is not being held to the same civil service standards and menu regulations. These employees even showed the senator documented proof that the new menu portions are significantly less, adding that it isn't a fair playing field when comparing costs and savings.
"We have to give them milk in the morning and offer it at lunch; they do not," said Todd Hennigan, food service leader at the Alger Correction Facility and AFSCME local 3639 Union Representative.
"We have to give them juice everyday; they don't. They only have to give them juice three days a week," he added.
The corrections employees touched on several incidents, including one in Florida, where beef was changed to turkey, causing a riot. Those opposed believe all these little food changes could erupt into protest and violence by inmates. They add that it may not matter to us, but a meal is all a prisoner has.
Casperson arranged either an in-person or video conference meeting with Dick Posthumus, the governor's strategic affairs advisor, to present all of this information on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
"I'll do what I can," Casperson told worried employees.
Currently a bleak fate lies ahead for the 370 employees. The senator says he will present the Civil Service Commission this information to investigate whether the contract that was bid on was valid. If it wasn't, it could be voided.