Tag Archives: Michigan

Push to end privatized prison food clears first hurdle

Source: Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News, April 10, 2018
 
A state House budget panel Tuesday unanimously approved Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to end controversial privatized food service in Michigan prisons, meaning the proposal to rehire state workers for kitchen jobs cleared an early hurdle. But legislators and the Michigan Department of Corrections are at odds over a separate budget provision that would require the state to close its third prison since 2016 due to a steadily declining population. Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature voted to privatize prison food service in 2012, a move that was projected to save the state $16 million a year as contract workers replaced more than 370 state employees. …

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Gov. Rick Snyder: State to end problem-plagued privatization experiment with prison food
Source: Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, February 7, 2018
 
Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday that the state will end a four-year experiment with privatizing its prison food service after years of maggots in food, smuggling by kitchen employees, kitchen workers having sex with inmates, inadequate staffing levels and other problems documented by the Free Press in a series of articles. … The Free Press, using Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, documented a litany of problems, including meal shortages, maggots in the kitchen, the smuggling of drugs and other contraband by kitchen employees, kitchen workers engaging in sex acts with prisoners and even attempting to hire one inmate to have another inmate assaulted.  Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, whose members used to staff the prison kitchen, said many of the more than 300 former workers have moved on to other jobs or retired, but he expects there will be a core workforce available to train new hires.  “It was a shocker,” Ciaramitaro said of Snyder’s announcement.  “I give him credit. It’s one thing to try something — it’s another thing to admit that it didn’t work.” …

… The state and Aramark Correctional Services of Philadelphia opted to end their $145.1-million contract about 18 months early in 2015 after the state balked at billing changes requested by Aramark. The state switched to a $158.8-million contract with Florida-based Trinity Services Group, but problems continued. Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington said the state plans to bring about 350 state workers back into the prison kitchens when the Trinity contract expires July 31. The state and Trinity have mutually agreed to part ways after Trinity sought price increases, she said. …

Michigan Department of Corrections, Trinity Services Group mutually agree to end contract
Source: Upper Michigan Source, February 7, 2018

The Michigan Department of Corrections will return to state-run food service operations this summer after coming to a mutual agreement with Trinity Services Group to end the partnership when the contract expires. The change, which would bring about 350 state workers back to correctional facility kitchens, was announced in Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget recommendation presentation Wednesday. … Budget language first approved in 2012 required the open bidding of food service operations to reduce correctional costs. The boilerplate language requiring the open bidding of food service is no longer in place, but the change would still require the Legislature to appropriate sufficient funds for these operations moving forward.

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Detroit Medical Center service workers seek new contract, decry “penny-pinching”

Source: Sarah Cwiek, Michigan Radio, January 21, 2018
 
The Detroit Medical Center is still trying to reach a new contract with some unionized workers at its five Detroit hospitals, after service and maintenance workers overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contract agreement earlier this month.  Those workers, who range from janitorial staff to equipment technicians, say the first deal offered by the DMC’s for-profit owner, Tenet Health Care, was simply “inadequate.”  “They want to give us about a 30-cent wage increase, and yet they’re increasing our insurance premiums anywhere from 24-39%. And so basically, we’re just falling backward,” said Donna Stern, a Children’s Hospital of Michigan employee and a unit chair with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 140. …

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DMC Surgery Hospital remains closed; housekeeping outsourcing nearly settled
Source: Jay Greene, Crain’s Detroit Business, January 22, 2015

Detroit Medical Center’s Surgery Hospital in Madison Heights is still closed more than six months after a torrential rain flooded it along with much of Southeast Michigan. DMC officials still haven’t decided what to do with the shuttered hospital in which all the employees have either been laid off or transferred within the eight-hospital system. …. On DMC’s plan to outsource its environmental services department to Sodexo USA, Conrad Mallett Jr., DMC’s chief administrative officer, told Crain’s that negotiations are moving steadily and a final resolution is expected by Feb. 1. …. In October, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ruled that DMC needed to engage in arbitration with the housekeepers union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 – before it signed a contract with Sodexo.

DMC workers protest hospital’s plan to outsource job
Source: Holly Fournier, The Detroit News, October 27, 2014

About 70 employees of the Detroit Medical Center’s environmental services department rallied Monday to protest the hospital’s plan to outsource housekeeping jobs to a company called Sodexo. Their protest came moments before a 3-hour hearing Monday in Detroit’s federal court to address the hospital’s plan. The hearing continues with oral arguments Wednesday morning.

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Pittsburgh’s Water System Is Why We Shouldn’t Run America Like a Business

Source: Jordana Rosenfeld, The Nation, November 30, 2017

Pittsburgh, in an attempt to deal with entrenched infrastructure problems, turned to the private sector in 2012 when it partnered with the French management firm Veolia North America, the same water-management company that would fail to disclose Flint’s lead-contamination problem in 2015. … The organization lauded Veolia for identifying $2.3 million in new PWSA revenue and $3 million more in operating savings, a move incentivized by their contract that stipulated the company could keep 40 percent of every dollar it saved the city. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a glowing account of PWSA’s partnership with Veolia, despite reports that it laid off 23 employees, many of whom were longtime employees with critical institutional knowledge. … But this August, a consulting group hired to assess the organization’s current state announced in a public meeting that PWSA was “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure” with “an aging system in demonstrably worse condition than any water utility of its size in the country.” Not only that, water tests showed that since the partnership began, Pittsburgh’s water had been tainted with dangerously high levels of lead. …

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Veolia’s US growth hopes run into trouble
Source: Luc Olinga, AFP, September 23, 2017

Veolia’s hopes of taking advantage of municipal privatizations and promised Trump administration public works projects to expand its US presence, are being strained by its role in water crises in Flint, Michigan and other cities. … A push by more US local governments to privatize water systems and promises by President Donald Trump of a $1 trillion public infrastructure investment are seen as opportunities to Veolia to expand. … But Veolia’s operations have not been without controversy, especially in Flint, where a lead contaminated water system became a notorious symbol of American social injustice. Veolia issued a study of the city’s water quality before the scandal erupted but did not flag any issues with lead, an issue it says it was told to exclude from the report since city and federal authorities already were looking into it. … Veolia continues to face numerous investigations and class-action lawsuits connected to the crisis. … Veolia also has run into controversy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which also suffered from elevated levels of lead in its water system. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has accused the French company of mismanaging the infrastructure system, including botching a shift in chemicals used in corrosion control. The Pittsburgh authority is in mediation with Veolia, according to two people familiar with the matter, but if that process fails it could result in another protracted court battle. …

Pittsburgh Tries to Avoid Becoming the Next Flint
Source: Kris Maher, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2017

As its soot-filled skies cleared, this city built on the steel industry gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most livable places. But it now has another environmental issue to contend with: It is one of several major American cities with lead levels in drinking water above the federal limit.  A total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. They include Portland, Ore., and Providence, R.I., which both exceeded the limit at least one other time in the past five years.  Since the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., cities have been under greater scrutiny from regulators and pressure from residents to reduce lead in drinking water. In most cases, there is no easy fix, and more cities are looking at the costly prospect of replacing vast networks of pipes buried under streets and private property. …

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Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost.

Source: Mark Binelli, New York Times, September 5, 2017

… A major victim of the city’s borderline insolvency was its public-school system, which had been under state control since 2012. (Six different state-appointed emergency managers have run the district since then.) Plummeting enrollment, legacy costs and financial mismanagement had left the school system with a projected deficit of $10 million. The state’s solution that year was to “charterize” the entire district: void the teacher’s union contract, fire all employees and turn over control of the schools to a private, for-profit charter operator. But enrollment at Highland Park High continued to decline, so the state closed the school in 2015. Highland Park now has no high school, either public or charter. Families send their children to high schools in Detroit or the suburbs, where they have no electoral influence over local officials or school boards.

… Michigan’s aggressively free-market approach to schools has resulted in one of the most deregulated educational environments in the country, a laboratory in which consumer choice and a shifting landscape of supply and demand (and profit motive, in the case of many charters) were pitched as ways to improve life in the classroom for the state’s 1.5 million public-school students. … The story of Carver is the story of Michigan’s grand educational experiment writ small. It spans more than two decades, three governors and, now, the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose relentless advocacy for unchecked “school choice” in her home state might soon, her critics fear, be going national. But it’s important to understand that what happened to Michigan’s schools isn’t solely, or even primarily, an education story: It’s a business story. Today in Michigan, hundreds of nonprofit public charters have become potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions. …

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Michigan Emergency Managers Outsource Education
Source: Dylan Scott, Governing, August 2, 2012

Can contracting out education services save a school district money and improve student performance? Highland Park Public Schools in Michigan are about to find out. It’s an innovative idea, one enabled by Michigan’s emergency manager law, which gives one public official almost autonomous authority to oversee a city or school district’s finances and operations, as Governing detailed in its June issue. Last week, Highland Park Public Schools Emergency Manager Joyce Parker announced that she planned to hire The Leona Group, a charter school operator, to take over the school’s curriculum and instruction. Parker and her office will continue to oversee financial matters. …

Highland Park district seeks to charter all of its schools
Source: Jennifer Chambers, Detroit News, June 18, 2012

The emergency manager of Highland Park Schools says turning the entire district over to a charter operator is the only way to make it financially viable for students to return this fall…. The Muskegon Heights school district also has sought proposals to place all of its schools under a charter operator. Parker, who has the sole authority to hire a charter operator in Highland Park, said she expects an operator to be selected by mid-July.

Ex Wayne Co. CFO’s ties to developers warrant probe, commissioners say

Source: Ross Jones, WXYZ, August 11, 2017

The sale of a Wayne County building to developers with ties to the county’s former CFO has prompted calls for an investigation by Wayne County’s prosecutor.  County Executive Warren Evans insists the CFO, Tony Saunders, played no role in the sale that and no rules were broken. … Also this week, Denis Martin, the president of AFSCME Local 1862, sent a letter to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, asking that her office of Fraud and Corruption Investigation Unit dig into the deal.  While the deal was being vetted by the county commission, analysts noted several red flags even before they were aware of Saunders’ connection to the buyers. …

Daily understaffing persists at Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Source: Amy Biolchini, MLive, August 10, 2017

Understaffing at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans continues to be a problem, according to an follow-up audit released by the state. That’s after the home entered into a new staffing contract in fall 2016. … However, most other major problems at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans identified in a blistering state audit in February 2016 have largely been resolved, the report found. …

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Blame for poor care at Grand Rapids veterans home sits at the top, Dems say
Source: Amy Biolchini, MLive, July 27, 2017
 
Democratic State Representatives Winnie Brinks and Tim Greimel say Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette hasn’t gone far enough to hold officials with the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and the state accountable for the poor conditions at the facility.  “Why did it take so long to get some action? For years, our veterans were literally calling for help, pressing the help button beside their bed, and hearing silence,” Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said at a Thursday, July 27, press conference in front of the home.  This week Schuette announced felony charges for falsifying medical records against 11 former nursing assistants who worked for the former contractor, J2S Group Healthforce. His investigation found there wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges over the five worst complaints about member treatment, in some of which veterans died. …

Did a 2011 lawsuit against Grand Rapids Home for Veterans predict the future?
Source: David Bailey, WZZM, July 25, 2017
 
The lawsuit was filed by veteran Anthony Spallone intending to stop the on-going privatization at the time.  Gov. Rick Snyder recommended taking state-employed care aides out the home and replace them with nurse aides hired by local contractor J2s.  It was a contentious environment at the time as state aides lost their jobs and were replaced by people they considered to be less-skilled, less-experienced and cheaper.  Union leaders did everything they could to stop the job losses including filing Spallone’s lawsuit.  It alleged the privatization would lead to substandard care and contended J2S had a quote “dangerous track record of care”.   Spallone’s attorney at the time was adamant veterans could be put in terrible situations with the privatization. …

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Michigan begins to design 4 pilot projects to test mental health integration

Source: Jay Greene, Crain’s Detroit Business, August 4, 2017

What is going on at the Michigan health department about designing four pilot programs to test a controversial plan to combine physical and behavioral Medicaid services among mental health agencies, providers and HMOs? So far, nothing, at least on the selection and design of the pilots. … Section 298 is a controversial budget section that, under Snyder’s original plan put forth in early 2016, would have allowed some of the state’s health plans to manage the $2.6 billion Medicaid behavioral health system. The Medicaid HMOs already manage a nearly $9 billion physical health system. Over the past two years, Michigan’s 11 Medicaid health plans have lobbied legislators and the public to try a semi-privatized approach under Snyder’s plan, which was finally approved in June. … Republicans in Michigan want to test the concept in four pilot projects that everyone believes will be Kent County, an urban area like metro Detroit, a northern Michigan rural area and in western Michigan, which could include Kalamazoo County, sources tell me. Lori said the state has not received any formal suggestions for where the four pilots would be located. …

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Plan to privatize Mich. mental health aid advances
Source: Karen Bouffard, Detroit News, June 20, 2017
 
The first step in a plan to turn control of Michigan’s $2.6 billion mental health budget over to privately owned insurance companies is poised for inclusion in next year’s state budget, despite a wall of opposition from mental health providers, patients and families across Michigan.  The contentious plan is embedded in two provisions of the state budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, part of the Omnibus Budget bill approved by the state House on Tuesday expected to be approved by the state Senate on Thursday. …

Lobbying ramp-up precedes mental health funding proposal
Source: Justin A. Hinkley, Lansing State Journal, April 27, 2017

Physical health insurers ramped up lobbying operations and far out-spent their behavioral health counterparts in the months before lawmakers pulled an about-face on who should manage billions of Medicaid dollars for mental health services. Community mental health groups and allied advocacy groups spent about $52,400 on lobbying in 2016, nearly $8,700 more than their average from the previous three years, state records show. That happened as they fought to maintain management of Medicaid money for behavioral health. However, lobbyists for the private insurers who currently manage Medicaid dollars for physical health spent a combined nearly $838,000 last year, about $21,000 more than their previous three years’ average as they seek to take over the mental health dollars. … That ramp-up happened as lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration changed positions on the Medicaid issue — to the benefit of the physical health insurers. In February 2016, Snyder called for the private health management organizations who oversee physical health spending to also take over mental health money by Oct. 1, 2016. Lawmakers denied that proposal and instead asked the administration to study the issue and make recommendations by spring 2017. The administration did that last month, changing its position from 2016 and calling for the two funds to remain under separate management. Last week, however, lawmakers in the Senate advanced a budget proposal that would give the mental health money to HMOs by 2020. …

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Towns sell their public water systems — and come to regret it

Source: Elizabeth Douglass, The Washington Post, July 8, 2017

Neglected water infrastructure is a national plague. By one estimate, U.S. water systems need to invest $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen 74 percent in real terms since 1977, and low-interest government loans have not filled the gap. … The prospect of offloading these headaches to for-profit water companies — and fattening city budgets in the process — is enticing to elected officials who worry that rate hikes could cost them their jobs. Once a system has been sold, private operators, not public officials, take the blame for higher rates. But privatization will not magically relieve Americans of the financial burden of upgrading their water infrastructure. … One of the biggest inducements for water deals is the “fair market value” legislation that has been passed in six states — Indiana, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and is being considered by others.  …

… Even as more cities consider selling their water infrastructure, others are trying to wrest control of their systems back from private operators, usually because of complaints about poor service or rate hikes. Since private owners are rarely willing to surrender these lucrative investments, cities usually end up pursuing eminent domain in court. That means proving that city ownership is in the public’s interest and then paying a price determined by the court. Those prices can be exorbitant. …

Michigan university following Ohio State’s lead with parking privatization

Source: Tom Knox, Columbus Business First, June 29, 2017

A public university in Michigan is considering privatizing its parking system – and using Ohio State University as an example. Eastern Michigan University regents on Tuesday authorized President James Smith to pursue an arrangement to lease out its parking apparatus in exchange for upfront money. … It’s a significant decision because it is one of the first universities to follow Ohio State’s lead after the school signed a first-of-its-kind arrangement in 2012. Ohio State leased its parking operations to Australian pension fund QIC Infrastructure in a 50-year, $483 million deal, framing it as raising money for academics. …

Prevailing wage foes prepare new petition drive

Source: Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News, May 15, 2017
 
A pro-business group pushing to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law has drafted new petition language and is seeking advance approval from the state to begin collecting signatures.  The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to consider the form of a petition submitted Protecting Michigan Taxpayers that would lift a 1965 law that generally requires contractors to pay their workers union-rate wages and benefits on state-financed or state-sponsored projects. … The committee raised more than $1.7 million for a similar effort two years ago but failed to advance its initiated legislation after paid circulators gathered an estimated 161,781 invalid signatures, including many duplicates.  Republican state legislative leaders want to repeal the prevailing wage law, which they argue inflates the cost of taxpayer-funded construction projects. But GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has threatened to veto any legislation that reaches his desk, suggesting it could hurt his efforts to build interest in skilled trades careers. …