Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Union And Activists Call For Investigation Of Aramark’s Florida Prison Contract

Posted: February 19th, 2008 11:56 AM PDT

The Campaign for Quality Services, a joint project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE, held a rally in Miami, Fla. where labor, elected, and community leaders called for an investigation of Aramark's food service contract with Florida's Department of Corrections.

A 2007 report by the Inspector General of the Florida Department of Corrections found that Aramark was collecting "windfall profits" from its food service contract with the state's prison system at the expense of Florida taxpayers, according to the campaign. The report found that by getting rid of Aramark and doing the work itself, the State of Florida could save approximately $7 million dollars per year, the campaign claims. But instead of firing Aramark, the State of Florida gave them a new five-year contract, the group claims.

Labor leaders at the rally spoke out against Aramark's practices.

"Aramark is charging for phantom meals, cutting food quality and pocketing the savings," said Bruce Raynor, general president, UNITE HERE International, in a prepared statement. "We don't have to stand for this and the Department of Corrections needs to make a change."

"Florida's working families need a break instead of paying millions of dollars to fill the pockets of Aramark's top officials. Under the new contract, Florida appears to continue paying Aramark millions of dollars for meals that are never served. Aramark needs to reimburse Florida taxpayers for their windfall profits. It's time to get rid of Aramark. Florida taxpayers deserve better," said Monica Russo, president, SEIU Healthcare Florida.

Elected and community leaders called for a change on behalf of taxpayers.

"Aramark turns a profit on Florida's dime and a blind eye to Florida's budget problems," said Senator Tony Hill, Senate District 1. "We as legislators cannot and will not stand for this type of greed. There are too many critical needs in this state to allow any private contractor to operate strictly on greed and not quality service."

"This money could help fund community centers, job-training programs, or the institutions that help build Florida communities. Instead the money went to Aramark," said Bernard Poitier, ACORN member.

"Florida is in the midst of a budget crisis and it is financially irresponsible for the State to continue doing business with any company proven to be overcharging on a contract. Florida is not a cash cow for private industry. Companies caught overcharging, must be made to pay back the excess money, with interest. This also illustrates the need for stricter guidelines, oversight and scrutiny of the companies contracted with the State," said Representative Luis Garcia, House District 107.

The campaign is calling for:

An investigation of Aramark's current and past conduct in the Florida prisons, especially regarding the gap between served and meals billed for, savings resulting from menu changes, and hiring of any state official who approved menu changes.
Aramark should be called on to return the millions of dollars it saved through reduced-quality food and the over 8 percent drop in inmate participation between 2001and 2007.

The State of Florida should re-bid Aramark's contract and replace it with a contract (and another contractor) that maintains stable facility conditions, ensures that savings are passed along to taxpayers, and removes incentives to reduce food quality in order to increase profits. Specifically, this would include contractors billing based on meals served, rather than inmate population.

The Campaign for Quality Services is a joint project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE, which brings together workers, parents, clergy and community leaders to raise standards throughout the food, cleaning and maintenance service industries. We work together to raise standards by improving the quality of services, treatment of employees and accountability to the community, taxpayers, and clients.

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