Rick Snyder, the 48th Governor of Michigan, took office in 2011 pledging to put politics aside, and do what was best for the State. Unlike other Republicans, he said, his intention was not to push a hardline agenda of privatization and union busting. “I don’t believe in privatization,” the self-proclaimed ‘tough nerd’ said in 2012. “I believe in being competitive.”
Sure, as a result of being competitive, some jobs previously done by state workers, like preparing the food we serve to Michigan prisoners, may eventually be done by for-profit corporations that promise cost savings, but the self-proclaimed ‘tough nerd’ assured is that it wouldn’t be for ideological reasons. No, if these jobs were privatized, it would just be because these companies demonstrated that they could operate lean, effective operations that could both provide superior service and help set our state back on a path toward fiscal solvency.
So it was, in September, 2013, that Snyder signed a three-year, $145 million dollar contract with a corporation called Aramark to handle prison food service across the State. Aramark, we were assured, had demonstrated that they could do more will less.
It would also mean, of course, that 373 union workers represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), would lose their jobs, helping to further the conservative agenda… But that, we were told, wasn’t what this was about.
“We went through an extensive process to look at doing it in-house versus looking to the outside,” Snyder told a WJR reporter. “I believe in competitive bidding — versus privatization — but we went through a competitive bidding process and we found a good answer. It will save us money and hopefully provide better service.”
Of course, there were claims at the time that the administration had put forward false information in order to justify privatization. Nick Ciaramitaro, an AFSCME lobbyist, told the Detroit News that Snyder and company had “cooked the books” in order to sell privatization. Ciaramitaro questioned the estimated savings that Aramark could achieve, as the State had already gotten the prison food service system to a point where Michigan prisoners were being fed for $2 a day. He also pointed out the fact that the food service workers his union represented actually did more than just prepare food, as they were also trained as corrections officers, who knew how to handle Michigan’s inmates.
There was also ample evidence that Aramark was failing elsewhere. As the Detroit Free Press pointed out in May, 2013, the company’s practices were being called into question in both Florid and Kentucky, where violations were mounting… Here’s a clip.
…Florida and Aramark parted ways in 2008 after the state repeatedly fined the company for contract violations and an audit accused Aramark of cutting costs and boosting profits by skimping on meals.
In Kentucky, corrections officers and others said a 2009 prison riot was provoked by poor food service by Aramark, state Rep. Brent Yonts, a Democrat from Greenville, said Monday.
A 2010 report by Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Crit Luallen identified food skimping, food safety issues and excessive billings and said Aramark refused to provide requested records related to its food costs, personnel costs and bonuses paid to managers…
But we went ahead with the deal, knowing full well what Aramark would likely do. They’d achieve financial gains by paying their employees considerably less, and cutting back on things like food quality and employee training. They’d cut costs to the bone, with no thought as to the consequences… The worse the food, the less prisoners would eat, and the more corporate profits would grow.
And, guess what? Once Aramark took over the contract in Michigan, that’s exactly what they did.
Here’s a clip from the Detroit Free Press.
Gov. Rick Snyder and his officials are now considering scrapping the $145-million, three-year contract before the summer heat intensifies unhappiness over prison food and possibly threatens security and safety….
Maggots in the kitchen and on the chow line. Workers caught smuggling contraband or engaging in sex acts with inmates. Food shortages and angry prisoners.
Those are among the problems that have plagued Michigan prisons since December when the state — in a move aimed at saving more than $12 million a year — switched from using state workers to feed prisoners to a private contractor, Aramark Correctional Services of Philadelphia.
Ongoing turmoil with the 7-month-old contract — including many instances never previously disclosed — is detailed in more than 3,000 pages of state records obtained by the Free Press under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act: One Aramark food service director showed up drunk and failed a Breathalyzer. Another worker was caught trying to smuggle marijuana. Others have failed drug tests, kissed prisoners, threatened to assault inmates, or announced intentions to “go postal” inside a facility, records show.
“I’m at my wit’s end,” Kevin Weissenborn, the Michigan Department of Corrections manager in charge of policing the Aramark contract, e-mailed one Michigan warden in March, records show.
…But the prison food contract isn’t the first state of Michigan privatization effort to run into major problems. The privately run Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin, known as the “punk prison,” which opened in 1998 under former Gov. John Engler, closed in 2005 amid reports it was too costly to run and neglected the health and educational needs of its young inmates…
As you may recall, the same thing happened not too long ago in Muskegon Heights, where the Governor-appointed Emergency Manager determined that, in an effort to save money, they’d eliminate public education altogether, replacing it with an an all-charter system, run by a for-profit corporation. As Democratic candidate for Governor Mark Schauer told us on this site a few weeks ago, that failed too.
“They see kids with dollar signs on their foreheads,” Schauer said. “I’ll give you an interesting case in point. Muskegon Heights schools were in financial distress. So Governor Snyder sent in an emergency manager. And the emergency manager chose a for-profit charter school company to run the entire district. It was a company called Mosaic. Well, recently, Mosaic ended their contract. Three years early. And the emergency manager said, Mosaic was doing a good job academically… I can’t really speak to that part… but, he said, this did not fit their financial model. They could not make a profit, he said. So they quit. The public shool district did not have an option of quitting. Elected school boards don’t have that option.”
How many of these examples do we need to see before we stop voting these people into office? How much evidence do we need before we see privatization for what it is? This pro-privatization jihad isn’t about making life in our state better for Michiganders. It’s about destroying public unions, slashing taxes and siphoning public money into the bank accounts of corporations and their shareholders. It’s about allowing our most wealthy citizens to contribute less, and, at the same time, cutting the union funding for those progressive candidates who would demand that these entities do things like pay their employees a living wage, provide safe workplaces, and contribute taxes toward things like public education and infrastructure.
I don’t know that it would change anything, but I’d love to go to Lansing with a truck of Aramark meals and hand-deliver them to the offices of Rick Snyder and those legislators who voted for privatization, asking that they eat them. I think the looks on their faces would speak volumes on the subject of privatization.
[note: The meal featured above is an Aramark breakfast. You can read about the contents here.]