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State skips union, picks private food service

COLUMBUS — A Philadelphia company that provides food and beverage service at ballparks, national parks, hospitals, and schools nationwide has been picked to provide private food service for Ohio prisons.

A state contract signed on Friday with Aramark Corp. will save taxpayers an estimated $28 million over two years, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said.

The state will pay Aramark more than $110 million over nearly two years to prepare and serve about 139,000 meals per day to inmates in state prisons. The contract includes two options for two-year renewals.

Prisons spokesman JoEllen Smith said the agency decided to make the change to help fill a $60 million budget shortfall created by higher employee health-insurance and payroll costs, plus increased inmate medical and prescription expenses.

She said Director Gary Mohr plans to bridge the gap without closing housing units or laying off security personnel.

However, there could be some reductions in the 433-member prison food-service staff. Ms. Smith said about 200 employees already have moved to other positions in the prison system. Transfers will continue through Sept. 7.

Ms. Smith said the state will have four employees and one dietitian assigned full-time to monitoring the Aramark contract.

There was just one other bidder, Trinity Services Group of Oldsmar, Fla.

Aramark bid $3.609 per inmate (three meals) for the first year and $3.714 the second year. Trinity bid $3.738 for the first year and $3.850 for the second year.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing prison and other state employees, opposed the food-service privatization and presented its own alternative plan, which was rejected by the state and not among the finalists considered for the contract.

The union proposal, which included food-service security cost, was $4.44 per inmate per day in the first year and $4.47 in the second year. The union said that would have produced a two-year savings of $14 million.

OCSEA President Christopher Mabe slammed the prison administration for choosing Aramark, a company that was involved in a failed food-service experiment at the Noble Correctional Institution from 1998 to 2000.

Union officials were briefed on the decision.

“The fact that the administration picked Aramark — the same company that overcharged the state by $2 million in 1998 — shows what little regard they have for Ohio taxpayers,” Mr. Mabe said.

“When you factor in the money it takes to maintain security and monitor the vendor as well as the money saved by Central Warehouse, it’s next to impossible for a private company to do what OCSEA members do for less money.”

Aramark officials did not return a call seeking comment.

The union charges that collateral damage also could result from the move, including a possible reduction in security with outside employees working in food-service areas.

“It makes for a dangerous situation,” said Adam Ruth, a corrections officer at the Marion Correctional Institution and a member of the union team that tried to negotiate an alternate contract.

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