Following NYC, Philadelphia Pulls Pension Stock in Private Prisons

Source: David Gambacorta, Governing, October 27, 2017
 
The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement voted Thursday to withdraw its investments in the for-profit prison industry, which has been dogged for years by health and safety problems.  Francis Bielli, the board’s executive director, said the board voted 6-1 in favor of liquidating the $1.2 million worth of stock it held in three companies: the GEO Group, CoreCivic, and G4S. The funds will be routed to other investments over several months.  In August, the Inquirer and Daily News published a report on the perils of the for-profit prison industry, which has been paid billions by the federal government since 1997 to house more than 34,000 inmates every year.  A multi-year study by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that for-profit prisons had higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and provided poorer access to medical care, than government-run prisons. …

Betsy DeVos’s Schedule Shows Focus on Religious and Nontraditional Schools

Source: Eric Lipton, New York Times, October 27, 2017
 
For years, Betsy DeVos traveled the country — and opened her checkbook — as she worked as a conservative advocate to promote the expansion of voucher programs that allow parents to use taxpayer funds to send their children to private and religious schools.  A detailed look at the first six months of Ms. DeVos’s tenure as the secretary of education — based on a 326-page calendar tracking her daily meetings — demonstrates that she continues to focus on those programs as well as on charter schools.  Her calendar is sprinkled with meetings with religious leaders, leading national advocates of vouchers and charter schools, and players involved in challenging state laws that limit the distribution of government funds to support religious or alternative schools. …

Related:
DeVos prioritizes grants for school choice programs. But it won’t help all students.
Source: Elham Khatami, ThinkProgress, October 12, 2017

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a document Thursday outlining her policy priorities, and while it comes as no surprise that she intends to steer more grant funding to school choice programs, it’s unlikely that the programs will be effective. School choice, or programs that provide alternatives to traditional public schools, has been at the center of DeVos’ national education policy since she was appointed to the Trump administration. Indeed, President Trump’s proposed 2017-2018 budget from earlier this year calls for $1.4 billion to support investments in school choice, including an additional $167 million for the Charter Schools Program and $250 million for a school voucher proposal geared toward private schools — all while proposing $9.2 billion in cuts from other federal education programs. …

Betsy DeVos’ 6-month report card: More undoing than doing
Source: Associated Press, August 10, 2017
 
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the news cycle has been dominated by stories of White House controversy: a travel ban, North Korea, health care and more.  Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been busy fulfilling her conservative agenda that seeks to broaden school choice and market-based schooling in pre-K through higher education.  As a researcher of education policy and politics, I’ve been following Secretary DeVos’ first six months in office. Here’s a quick look at what’s she’s done – and what’s been left in limbo. …

Continue reading

DCFS vows change to program that saw surge of child deaths

Source: David Jackson and Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, October 25, 2017
 
Following a Tribune report on deaths of children in a privatized child welfare program, a state Department of Children and Family Services official said Tuesday that the agency has started taking back some of those cases from contract agencies and will handle them in-house.  Nora Harms-Pavelski, the agency’s deputy director of child protection, also disclosed at a legislative hearing Tuesday that agency administrators are now getting immediate reports on any instance of mistreatment of a child in the “intact family services” program, among other reforms. …

Related:

Child deaths spike after DCFS privatizes ‘intact family services’
Source: David Jackson and Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, October 23, 2017
 
The state Department of Children and Family Services had conducted two abuse investigations into Verna Tobicoe’s Southeast Side home in the months before her death in May 2015. The agency also had hired a nonprofit group to make frequent visits and conduct safety checks on Verna and two siblings. … And then 44-pound Verna became part of a growing pattern of similar fatalities: She was one of 15 Illinois children to die of abuse or neglect from 2012 through last year in homes receiving “intact family services” from organizations hired by DCFS, a Tribune investigation found.  There was only one such child death under the intact family services program during the previous five years from 2007 through 2011, according to DCFS records released to the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act. … The spike in deaths began in 2012 after DCFS completely privatized the program, putting the care of families in the hands of nonprofit groups but doing little to evaluate the quality of their work, give them guidance and resources, or hold them accountable when children were hurt or put at risk, the Tribune found. …

New Orleans’ summer of floods revives the threat of privatization

Source: Aviva Shen, ThinkProgress, October 20, 2017
 
This year’s spate of floods prompted sudden scrutiny of the city’s long-neglected infrastructure, but everyone knows the system is not fully prepared to manage the city’s regular downpours. … After the August flooding, the Sewerage and Water Board admitted that at least 14 of the pumps that constantly churn water out of the ground had been offline. Outrage erupted. Several board officials resigned in political sacrifice, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) called for a private company to intervene and potentially take over the agency. … Private firms Veolia and CH2M quickly snapped up no-bid contracts to analyze New Orleans’ systemic failures after the August flood, stoking suspicion that the mayor would quietly transfer power over the water systems to for-profit companies. CH2M and its subcontractors have been tasked with servicing turbines that power the city’s pumps and finding back-up power sources. Veolia, which already manages part of the city’s wastewater system and its entire mass transit system, has been authorized not only to analyze the failings of the stormwater system but to “start taking the right steps to any necessary maintenance efforts.” The cost of fulfilling these contracts is still unclear…..

The federal workforce is ‘deeply in jeopardy,’ expert says   

Source: David Thornton, Federal News Radio, October 20, 2017
 
The federal workforce is facing major headwinds from President Donald Trump’s administration and certain lawmakers that may soon devolve into an outright hostile environment, experts say.  They point to potential retirement cuts looming in Congress, investigations into reassignments at the Department of Interior, and potentially devastating budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency as examples, and outlined a few overarching challenges feds will have to endure or overcome in the near future. …One of the challenges Verkuil named specifically was the movement for at-will employment. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July that would classify new federal hires as at-will employees, which means they could be removed or suspended without notice or right to appeal for any reason, or no reason at all.  … The specter of privatization is looming large in the minds of federal unions, who fear proposed moves at the Veterans Affairs Department will go in that direction. And President Trump urged privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration this summer.

Related:

Trump’s federal job cuts could lead to more spending
Source: Timothy Noah, Politico, April 13, 2017

Since 1962, total federal spending has increased from about $600 billion to about $4 trillion. How did that happen without ballooning the size of the federal workforce? By ballooning the size of the private-sector workforce to which the federal government contracted out the work. Today more than half the Pentagon budget goes immediately out the door to federal contractors. … But if the Trump administration proceeds with its planned cuts in the federal workforce, at least some of the work could be assigned to contract employees instead. That would likely increase rather than reduce costs associated with the programs being managed. …

Warner fights to protect federal workers
Source: Augusta Free Press, February 11, 2017

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 14 Senate colleagues to unveil the “Five Fights for Federal Employees,” a proposal to protect current and retired government workers from ideologically motivated attacks. … The Senators introduced a resolution with a statement of principles that the Senators intend to use to fight back against recent attacks on the federal workforce. These principles include a commitment to defend fair pay and earned benefits, oppose the erosion of essential protections that ensure the professionalism and independence of the civil service, and prevent the outsourcing of essential government functions to private contractors. A number of prominent labor unions and organizations supported the proposal, including the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE), National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), National Weather Service Employee Organization (NWSEO), and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). …

Continue reading

Senate Meal Supplier Not Banned From Contracts Over Pay Charge

Source: Ben Penn, Daily Labor Report, October 12, 2017 (Subscription required)

The Labor Department won’t ban a Senate cafeteria contractor from government business over charges it didn’t pay workers properly. The DOL settled the case with contractor Restaurant Associates by entering into a compliance agreement with the food service provider, a company spokesman told Bloomberg BNA. The settlement doesn’t include the harsher penalties that had been sought by the Obama administration. A DOL administrative law judge approved the settlement earlier this month, according to an order appearing on the agency website Oct. 12. The company and a DOL regional solicitor’s office agreed that instead of a debarment, Restaurant Associates would abstain from bidding on new federal service contracts for two years, the order states. …

Related:

GAO: Architect of the Capitol’s Oversight of the Senate Food Service Contract
Source: William T. Woods, Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-481R: May 12, 2017

The Architect of the Capitol administers contracts to acquire goods and services for the U.S. Capitol complex. In 2015, questions arose regarding the wages for workers employed by the Senate’s food service contractor. We reviewed the AOC’s oversight of this contract and found that it had considered this contractor’s performance satisfactory in 2015, and extended its contract for another 7 years. However, after the wage issues were identified, the agency enhanced its oversight and required the contractor to provide data on wages paid to its employees.

Read full report.

Feds Go After Concessions Company That Shorted Senate Workers $1 Million
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, December 30, 2016

The Labor Department wants to bar a concessions company from receiving new federal contracts, after the company allegedly stiffed low-wage workers inside the U.S. Senate out of $1 million. In June, the department announced that Restaurant Associates, a subsidiary of the food service conglomerate Compass Group, would repay 674 Senate workers back wages after the company failed to pay employees the prevailing wage under federal law and didn’t compensate employees for all the hours they worked. Restaurant Associates has since paid back the workers. But the department went a step further on Thursday, filing a complaint requesting that the company be forbidden from receiving new contracts for a period of three years. The request will now go before an administrative law judge. If approved, it will only affect future contracts, not the current one at the Senate building, which runs through 2029, according to the Labor Department filing. … According to the Labor Department, Restaurant Associates misclassified workers by putting them in lower job categories, resulting in lower pay. The company said the misclassification was an honest mistake, resulting from “administrative technicalities related to [workers’] evolving day-to-day work responsibilities.” In a statement Friday, Restaurant Associates said it was “surprised and disappointed” that the Labor Department was seeking disbarment: “Restaurant Associates, which had no history of previous [prevailing wage] violations, fully cooperated in the investigation. The company immediately paid all back wages owed and made all changes to pay practices going forward as requested by DOL. … DOL’s decision is unprecedented in these circumstances.” …

US Capitol workers want their voices heard over wage theft
Source: Alba Morales, The Hill, September 20, 2016

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that U.S. Senate federal contract workers like me had been robbed of over $1 million dollars from our paychecks by our employer, Compass Group. DOL found that Compass had been paying us less than the legal rates for our jobs, had not being paying us proper overtime or even for all the hours we worked, and had not kept proper payroll records. Within weeks, some of my co-workers started receiving as much as $20,000 in back-pay awards. But I only received $240, with no explanation of how it was calculated. I’ve worked at the Senate for over a decade and I believe the company likely stole much more than a couple of hundred bucks from me. And I’m not alone. Over a dozen Senate contract workers received little or no compensation as wage theft victims. Worst of all, neither myself, nor any of these workers were contacted or interviewed by the Labor Department or the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that oversees the contract, as part of the investigation. … The truth is that this is a symptom of a bigger problem: Workers and our representatives have not been invited to participate in the investigation and settlement talks even though we exposed the illegal conduct and are directly impacted by the results. If this were a court case, the victims would have their say, but we are low-wage workers who can’t afford a private attorney. That’s why workers are sending a letter to the Architect of the Capitol and the Department of Labor to request that our voices are respected. For us, respect means a willingness to bring workers into the process. …

House and Senate Restaurants: Current Operations and Issues for Congress
Source: Sarah J. Eckman, Congressional Research Service, August 23, 2016

Those involved with restaurant administration in the House and Senate have often considered how management choices affect operating costs, services available, oversight, and other elements of the restaurant systems. For much of their histories, the House and Senate operated their own restaurants, but since 1994 in the House and since 2008 in the Senate, private vendors have run the restaurants. In August 2015, the House entered an agreement with Sodexo to operate the 17 facilities in the House restaurant system, subject to direction from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and the Committee on House Administration. In December 2015, the Senate entered a new contract with Restaurant Associates to operate the 12 facilities in the Senate restaurant system, subject to direction from the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) and the Committee on Rules and Administration. … Food and price issues, along with other day-to-day operational issues, including personnel matters, are largely the responsibility of the restaurant contractors. Some Members and observers have raised concerns about the degree of accountability for the House and Senate restaurant contractors, believing that the restaurants’ administration reflects upon Congress and that the restaurants should set an example for other businesses to follow. Although the House and Senate are responsible for restaurant oversight, the delegation of restaurant operations to private contractors means the chambers have less control over employee wages and benefits, procurement, or other business decisions that affect the restaurant systems. …

Read full report.

Senate Cafeteria Workers Will Receive $1 million in Backpay from Restaurant Associates
Source: Lauren Godles, On Labor, July 26, 2016

Today, the Department of Labor announced today that the Senate cafeteria workers who were illegally denied wages will receive $1 million dollars in backpay from Restaurant Associates (RA) and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus. The money will be split among 674 employees, though DOL did not specify how much particular individuals will receive. … In an official investigation, DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) concluded that RA misclassified the cafeteria workers, in violation of the Service Contract Act. RA was also found to have violated the FLSA. According to the Associated Press, the WHD is considering whether RA should be banned from future government contracts. …

Most Senate cafeteria workers were mistreated on wages, top Capitol official says
Source: Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 21, 2016

A majority of the roughly 90 blue-collar restaurant workers serving the U.S. Senate were improperly classified by their private employer, a top U.S. Capitol administrator told a congressional committee last week, putting them at risk of being underpaid and prompting a Labor Department inquiry into the matter. The workers employed by Restaurant Associates have sought higher wages for more than a year, and a December contract renegotiation appeared on its face to deliver better pay and benefits. But several workers said they were subsequently reclassified into new, lower-paying jobs, thus cheating them out of the raise they were expecting. … Ayers’s deputies then interviewed 86 of the cafeteria and restaurant employees. That inquiry determined that 35 employees were classified properly, said Laura Condeluci, a spokeswoman for Ayers; the other 51 were not. Restaurant Associates immediately reclassified 35 of the 51 misclassified workers and delivered back pay, leaving 16 in dispute, Ayers said. Half of those are being resolved through negotiations; the rest have been referred to the U.S. Department of Labor for resolution.

Senate Cooks Say Contractor Dodged Raises
Source: Rhonda Smith, Daily Labor Report, February 1, 2016 (Subscription Required)

The seven-year contract extension between Restaurant Associates and the AOC took effect Dec. 14. As a result, Restaurant Associates increased wage rates for about 80 percent of the 115 employees who work in Dirksen Senate Office Building eateries and in the Senate dining room. In the complaint, signed by attorney George W. Faraday, legal and policy director for Good Jobs Nation, the group said the minimum wage rates to which Compass Group employees at the Senate are legally entitled are established by the federal Service Contract Act for each occupational category. The letter notes that the new wage rates resulted in substantial wage increases for Compass workers classified in the lowest-paid SCA occupational categories, including cashiers, dishwashers and food-service workers. But the federal contractor downgraded various cooks to food-service worker positions, it added, which reduced their hourly wage rate. …

Senate Food Workers Allege ‘Raise Theft’
Source: Bridget Bowman, Roll Call, January 29, 2016

According to the complaint, congressional staff members were told at a Dec. 14 briefing that minimum wages for Level 1 cooks would be raised by $3.65, to $17.45 an hour, and Level 2 cooks would would receive a $5.70 increase to $19.50 an hour. But the complaint alleges several cooks were reclassified as a lower-tier “food service worker,” meaning their wages did not increase as expected. Under the new contract, food service workers’  minimum wage increased to $13.80 per hour. A labor organizer said so far they know of roughly a dozen workers who have had their classification downgraded, even though they still perform the duties of a cook.
Continue reading

City Council advances plans to privatize Tyson, Orpheum management

Source: Ian Richardson, Sioux City Journal, October 16, 2017

Sioux City is entering contract negotiations with a Philadelphia-based venue management firm to oversee day-to-day operations at the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre. … Monday’s decision followed nearly an hour of discussion that included more than a dozen comments from the public — many of them local labor leaders and city employees concerned about their jobs and benefits — in a nearly standing-room-only City Council chamber. “We’ve heard this song and dance before throughout the state of Iowa,” Chris De Harty, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 212, said of contracting out public services. …

Related:

Majority voice support for private management as City Council defers vote
Source: Ian Richardson, Sioux City Journal, October 10, 2017
 
A majority of City Council members on Monday voiced their favor toward a proposal by a private management firm to run two city entertainment venues, but ultimately deferred a final vote until next week.  The delay came at the request of Councilman Dan Moore, who said he wanted to take that time to gather public input and to reflect on the disadvantages and advantages of switching. … The city is weighing whether to enter negotiations with the Philadelphia-based Spectra for management of the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre, a move recommended by City Manager Bob Padmore and by the Orpheum Theatre Board of Directors. Sioux City has been exploring the move this year and has been deciding whether to contract with Spectra or conduct a series of organizational tweaks within its current city management structure, a move favored by another city panel, the Events Facilities Advisory Board.… Chris De Harty, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 212 — which represents more than 350 workers, including the city’s operations, field services, technical and clerical staff — said city staff have done well up to this point and he doubts a contracted company would improve the situation. …

Stephenson County Board postpones decision on nursing home referendum

Source: Jane Lethlean, The Journal Standard, October 12, 2017

The Stephenson County Board postponed a vote today to place an advisory referendum on the November 2018 ballot to gauge public opinion about selling the county nursing home. Dan Neal, chairman of the County Board Nursing Home Committee, said there has been strong sentiment by some board members to sell the Stephenson County Nursing Center to a private company. … Ed Sadlowski of Janesville, Wisconsin, spoke on behalf of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31. “This sends the wrong message to the community, and you need to lead,” Sadlowski told the board. “Once you hand the nursing center over to the private sector, it will end up costing residents more.” …

How the Prison Phone Industry Further Isolates Prisoners

Source: Kalena Thomhave, American Prospect, October 12, 2017
 
When inmates are able to speak to friends and family while incarcerated, it not only improves their lives, but also, studies have shown, reduces recidivism after they leave prison. But to fill in budget holes or to make a profit, many state and local governments work with companies that put a high price tag on this basic need for the incarcerated.  A handful of companies monopolize the prison phone industry, and their control of the market allows them to charge exorbitant rates for inmate calls to their homes. States that contract with these providers tend to choose the contractor that provides not the lowest price, but the highest commission rate for the state. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay up to $1 per minute on a call. …

Related:

Face-to-Face Family Visits Return to Some Jails
Source: Mindy Fetterman, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 15, 2017

… Jailhouse visits like this one between family members and inmates are starting to make a comeback, replacing a decadeslong trend of requiring families to use Skype-like video technology in which families dial in from a computer at home, a public library or inside the jail itself to talk to a loved one who is incarcerated. The reason: Video technology companies came under criticism for charging high fees and for providing poor quality video connections. And evidence is growing that in-person visits help cut the likelihood that inmates will return to jail once they get out. Counties in Texas and Mississippi as well as the District of Columbia are reinstating face-to-face visits. A few states, like New Jersey, are considering legislation to allow in-person visits again.

… Although in-person visits remain the most common form of interaction between inmates and family members, the trend toward video visitation has been growing since the late 1990s. More than 500 jails and state prisons in 43 states have some sort of video visitation system, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. About 12 percent of jails have it, according to a study by PPI, which advocates for prisoners and their families. … And as video visitation has increased, face-to-face visitation has declined. The PPI found in a 2015 study that 74 percent of jails dropped in-person visits when they started video visits. Often the private companies that provide video visitation services require governments to drop in-person visits. … More than one in three families go into debt to cover the costs of staying in touch with people who are incarcerated, including paying for video calls, telephone calls and travel expenses for trips to jails and especially prisons, which can be hundreds of miles away, according to a survey of families by the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit that advocates against mass incarceration. … Those fees have come under criticism for being a “kickback” for governments, too. … The controversy over the cost of video visitation calls is part of a larger debate over the high cost of regular telephone calls for inmates. …

FCC made a case for limiting cost of prison phone calls. Not anymore.
Source: Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, February 5, 2017

Federal regulators no longer are pressing to cut the costs of most prison phone calls, backing away from a years-long effort to limit charges imposed by a handful of private companies on inmates and their families. The shift by the Federal Communications Commission comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday considers whether commissioners went too far when they capped prices for inmate calls that had reached more than a $1 per minute. To make phone calls from most federal and state prisons, inmates generally must set up accounts with a private company to hold money deposited by family members. The companies typically have a contract with the prisons, which receive a portion of the call revenue. Federal regulators had pushed since 2013 to lower the costs, saying the prices made it too hard for relatives to stay in touch. But a week after President Trump tapped a new leader for the FCC, the commission’s attorneys changed course and told the court that the FCC no longer would defend one of its own key provisions that limited fees for prisoners’ intrastate calls. … But supporters of the FCC’s limits say the phone contracts are being awarded on the basis of companies’ willingness to pay the highest commissions to prison systems — not on the basis of lowest rates or best service. In 2013, phone-service companies paid at least $460 million in commissions to correctional facilities, according to a brief filed by a coalition of advocates for inmates and their families. A number of state prison systems, including in New York’s, Mississippi’s and New Jersey’s, have taken steps to reduce rates and in some cases to limit commissions. …

Continue reading

Pay gap creating crisis in human services sector, agencies say

Source: Worcester Business Journal, October 11, 2017
 
Fourteen months after the signing of a law calling for equal pay across gender lines, representatives from human services agencies asked legislators for help closing a different sort of pay gap. Mark Schueppert, the general counsel and vice president of human resources for the Needham-based Justice Resource Institute, said some of his organization’s staff works in the same building as state employees who are doing similar jobs but earning more money, resulting in “literally dozens” of workers leaving for state jobs in the last three years. … Schueppert asked the committee to back a bill filed by Rep. Kay Khan, its House chair, and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry that aims to eliminate the pay disparity between state workers and their counterparts at private, community-based human services nonprofits. ….