State: Laid-off prison food workers will get first pick for guards

LANSING — Many of the Michigan Department of Corrections’ food service workers who are being laid off as a result of a privatization deal approved Monday may end up becoming corrections officers, a spokesman for the department said.

The State Administrative Board approved a three-year, $145-million prison food contract with Aramark Correctional Services of Philadelphia after a technical appeal filed with the Civil Service Department was dismissed on Friday. Unions say they still plan to appeal to the Civil Service Commission, but in the meantime the state has the green light to proceed with the plan, expected to result in the layoff of about 370 state workers.

Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said some or all of those workers will be given an opportunity to train as corrections officers at a special school planned for December.

Marlan said some of the workers are likely to retire and some will likely want to work for Aramark.

But the workers — who have not yet received their layoff notices — will be given the first chance to apply for the special training program and will be accepted if they can pass the required physical fitness test, he said.

The department needs to hire about 500 corrections officers to replace officers who have retired or otherwise left the department, Marlan said.

One training school for about 300 applicants is planned this month, he said. A separate school for the food-service workers will be held in December, he said.

Most of the workers the state plans to lay off are food-service leaders, whose pay tops out at $22.18 an hour. Pay for corrections officers tops out at $19.61 for part-time and $24.51 for full-time, according to the state Civil Service Department website.

The state plans to start implementing the Aramark contract Tuesday and hopes to have Aramark take over completely by Dec. 1. The state estimates it will save $12 million to $16 million a year.

Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for AFSCME Council 25, the union representing the state prison food-service workers, asked the State Administrative Board to delay or reject the contract.

“Aramark claims it can provide the same service at a substantial savings; the evidence is to the contrary,” Ciaramitaro said.

Jeff Brownlee, the state purchasing director, told the board it’s true that all the bids for prison food were rejected after state officials scrutinized them the first time. But an error was later discovered in calculating the department’s current costs, Brownlee said. When that error was corrected, it was clear Aramark would save the state more than 10 percent a year, he said.



Posted by Tribune News Services

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