Corrections officers protest prison food contract

Posted at 6:41 PM, Aug 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-14 18:49:09-04

LANSING, Mich. – Unionized corrections officers and representatives from several labor groups protested the state’s food service contract with Aramark.

It comes days after Gov. Snyder affirmed the state’s commitment to honor the contract, despite the dismissal of dozens of contracted workers, among other issues.

“We`re here to make a statement that it was the wrong decision by the governor to continue this private vendor, the Aramark company, corporation’s, contract with the food service in prisons,” said Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization.

Dozens of people marched in the shadow of the George W. Romney building, just outside Snyder’s office.

“We`re just concerned about the safety and security of the prison and we`re having constant issues going on,” Grieshaber said.

Officer Paul Jones works in Jackson at the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center. That’s a facility where prisoners are screened for medical, psychological and security issues before they’re transferred to a permanent facility.

Jones says the issues Aramark employees are bringing into prisons are putting corrections officers in danger.

“If a prisoner gets high on drugs, obviously he could come combative,” Jones said. “Sexual relationships with prisoners, that causes jealousy among the other prisoners, which can lead to fights where we, the officers, have to step in and intervene.”

In addition to bringing drugs into the prisons, Aramark employees have been caught in sexually compromising positions with inmates. Maggots have also been found in and around meal preparation areas.

“Everybody`s in danger,” said Grieshaber said. “When you have issues that occur in a prison and food is one of the closest issues to a prisoner, of how their foods are handled, food stuff. We`ve had food demonstrations and it`s the correctional officers that are gonna have to handle it.”

On Friday, Snyder said the state was fining Aramark, again, and requiring the company to redesign training and staffing procedures. His statement on the issues is as follows:

“One of our main goals has always been to run state government and state services in the most efficient way possible.  To that end, we are on pace to save Michigan taxpayers $14 million per year by implementing the existing contract between the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Aramark Correctional Services. 

However, the transition to utilizing Aramark’s services has seen errors on both sides of the relationship which are unacceptable and need to be corrected going forward.  Therefore, we will be taking multiple corrective actions to ensure that our prison food service operations are implementing best practices and achieving the same success that Aramark has seen in working with other states.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder during an interview with FOX 17 in 2013.

Michigan will assess a $200,000 fine onto Aramark and require the company to redesign their current training and staffing procedures in close coordination with the DOC.  The fine imposed onto Aramark will be used to implement structural changes on the state side, including appointing an independent Contract Oversight Senior Advisor, not employed by Aramark or the DOC, but working directly in the state’s Executive Office.  This Contract Oversight Senior Advisor will serve as a liaison between Aramark, the DOC, and other state officials, to promote effective communication and the prompt resolution of any performance issues. 

Michigan will also establish a system of independent contract monitors, review the DOC warehousing system, and work with Aramark to establish a set of mutually-agreed performance metrics to be used to objectively measure Aramark’s performance on a monthly basis. 

Aramark has provided services successfully to hundreds of correctional facilities across the country for nearly 40 years.  I fully expect the DOC and Aramark to work in close partnership to ensure the same success here in Michigan.”

The state began its three-year $145 million contract with Aramark back in December. The corrections union is not optimistic these issues will be resolved.

“I`m gonna hold my breath for the next three years,” Grieshaber said.