A Michigan union pledged to try to stop a three-year, $158 million prison food contract approved Tuesday, questioning the lack of a new bid and saying state employees should again be doing the work instead.
The contract's OK by the State Administrative Board, which was expected, came a day after Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the state and Aramark Correctional Services had mutually agreed to end their troubled three-year, $145 million contract early. Trinity Services Group, based in Oldsmar, Florida, will transition to becoming Michigan's new vendor in the next two months.
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The company was the only other qualified bidder when Michigan first privatized prison food services in 2013.
Ed McNeil with Michigan AFSCME Council 25 said the Department of Technology, Management & Budget violated the law by not seeking new bids for the work once Aramark failed to fulfill the contract.
"Changing vendors two years after the open bid was first awarded without going back to the marketplace is bad business because it cheats the public out of the benefit of competitive pricing," he said, declining to say if a lawsuit will be filed. "Having the losing company of the original bid participate in evaluating the winning company's job performance and then get the contract at a $13 million price increase is unethical. These are just not good business practices."
DTMB spokesman Caleb Buhs defended the decision to not begin a request for proposals anew and said only two companies originally submitted bids two years ago.
"This was the only option that would ensure a smooth, uninterrupted transition of food services in our prisons," he said.
Philadelphia-based Aramark and the state cut ties after company-initiated talks about a possible billing increase and other issues. Michigan fined Aramark $200,000 last year for unapproved menu substitutions, worker misconduct and other issues.
Snyder and other Republicans defend the privatization, saying it will still save at least $11.5 million a year under the new contract that costs the state more than the Aramark agreement.
McNeil, however, said better-paid state employees would perform better than lower-paid employees at a "fast-food company."
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