Ohio to renew prison food contract with Aramark despite past problems, rejects union proposal

MarketsAssociated Press

Ohio on Tuesday renewed a contract to feed the state's 50,000 prison inmates with a company whose early troubles getting the job done led to criticism over privatizing the service.

The state rejected a counterproposal by the union representing prison guards and other workers after a four-person panel determined the union's plan would cost too much.

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The agreement with Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services extends through June 30, 2017.

The company faced criticism last year over understaffing, running out of food and a few cases of maggots near food prep areas.

Messages were left with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association and with Aramark.

The union said its per-meal cost came in at $1.22 compared with $1.28 for Aramark, saving taxpayers $2.9 million a year. The union also said its plan would strengthen security and sanitation training for 338 food service coordinators and return dozens of lieutenants and captains to security duty rather than monitoring food services.

But the review panel said factors the union didn't consider would probably bring the per-meal cost to $1.53.

Those included higher-than-calculated payroll costs because of the new union contract, which provides 2.5 percent pay increases for each of the next three years, according to the panel.

The proposal also didn't take into account the cost of re-establishing a supply chain for buying and distributing food supplies to the agency's prisons, the panels' review said. The review also questioned a union proposal to use a single food provider, calling a 28 percent savings estimate unlikely.

In general, the four-page review said it would be costly to start over with an entirely new system, considering the union "proposal basically involves rebuilding a food services system from scratch."

Aramark is on track to save $17 million this year, compared with original estimates of $14 million in annual savings, according to the state.

The prisons agency last year levied $272,000 in fines on Aramark for contract violations, including running out of main courses, understaffing, inappropriate relationships between inmates and Aramark employees, and maggots found near food preparation areas.

Ohio says the inmate-food program experienced similar issues when feeding prisoners was a state-operated program.

The company's performance in Michigan also has been under scrutiny over misconduct by some of its employees and food contamination issues.