Gov. plans to push ahead with food service plan

MARQUETTE – A Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman said food service workers at the Marquette Branch Prison and other facilities would have a couple of options for continued employment as Gov. Rick Snyder says he intends to push ahead with plans to privatize food service for the state’s 45,000 prison inmates under a proposed $145 million, 3-year contract.

Snyder will consider objections from state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, as well as unionized prison employees and others but won’t let them block the process.

The State Administrative Board is expected to consider the contract this morning with Aramark Correctional Services of Philadelphia. The contract would eliminate 370 Corrections Department jobs.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said workers displaced by privatization might be hired by Aramark. A special corrections officer’s school for food service workers is expected to be opened in December, which would also give workers a chance to continue state employment as a corrections officer.

Marlan said Marquette Branch Prison currently has 11 state employee food service workers, including nine food service leaders, one food service assistant director and one food service director.

The Snyder administration has said the change could cut prison food service costs by 20 percent, or about $16 million a year.

Casperson has said that the bidding process was flawed, as the Aramark bid did not require it to buy meat and dairy products from in-state suppliers while the Corrections Department as a matter of policy gets those supplies in-state, putting it at a competitive disadvantage.

Marlan said some of Casperson’s concerns involve local outlets.

“There are some local food suppliers from the Marquette area that have been supplying food to the prison,” Marlan said.

Marlan said those producers are concerned they may lose that ability under the Aramark contract.

“Aramark certainly could continue to purchase from them, at this point we don’t know,” Marlan said.

Marlan said the contract did have some emphasis on Michigan-first suppliers. He said Aramark, as a national corporation, would have as great as 50 times the purchasing power of the state corrections department.

Snyder wants to move the contract ahead.

“If people are bringing up issues, we don’t ignore them,” Snyder said. “I just want to make sure, though, that we don’t let them delay something inappropriately, if they’ve already been reviewed.”

Marlan said the contract with Aramark would take effect Oct. 1 with a 60-day transition period, setting implementation for Dec. 1.

According to the Corrections Department, Aramark already employs 3,000 people in Michigan and serves meals for large companies – such as Ford and General Motors – and county jails. About 14,700 workers, or more than a quarter of all state employees, work in the Corrections Department.

Aramark has similar state prison contracts with Indiana, Kansas and Kentucky, and in many cases hired displaced state workers.

Marlan said MDOC Director Daniel Heyns has met with prison officials from other states and representatives of Aramark. Any concerns Heyns may have had about the company supplying food to Michigan’s prisoners have been alleviated, Marlan said.

The Michigan Civil Service Department is considering technical objections to the Aramark agreement, after which an appeal to the Civil Service Commission is possible.

“That is a separate process that we will not wait on,” said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for Michigan AFSCME Council 25 that represents the prison food workers, said he has been unable to review the proposed contract with Aramark because state officials told him it was still in draft form.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.