Coalition of State Employee Unions: Incidents Cause Employees to Urge State to Halt Shortcuts at Veterans Home

Sep 21, 2011, 11:45 ET from Coalition of State Employee Unions

LANSING, Mich., Sept. 21, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Employees alarmed by deteriorating conditions at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans are calling on the state to halt the transfer of the veterans' care to contracted workers.  Gov. Snyder ordered care at the home to be fully privatized as part of state budget cuts effective Oct. 1, putting the more than 650 vulnerable Michigan veterans there in the hands of substandard caregivers.

"What's happening to the veterans here is just plain wrong – they deserve to be taken care of by professionals who have the training and skills to keep them safe and help them live with dignity," said Mark Williams, a resident care aide at the home for more than 17 years. "Instead the state is allowing our veterans to be taken care of by untrained workers who are literally putting their lives in danger every day.  It is a shameful way to treat them, and we won't stay quiet about it. The state has a responsibility to stop this before more veterans get hurt."

State employees will ask the Michigan Civil Service Commission to reverse the privatization order at its meeting at 10 a.m. today, Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 400 S. Pine St. in Lansing (Capitol Commons Center).  Coalition of State Employee Unions representatives will attend and University of Michigan Professor Roland Zullo will give a brief presentation about the economics of privatization.  Several veterans who currently reside at the Home will also testify.

Under the Governor's plan, about 170 state resident care aides at the Grand Rapids home are set to be replaced by workers from a private company as of Oct. 1. Aides from the company, JS2, have been gradually starting to work at the home, with disastrous results.

In addition to the deterioration of care at the home, the cost savings are questionable.

The situation at the Grand Rapids home shows that privatization is not a solution to the state's budget problems, said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, spokesperson for the Coalition of State Employee Unions. The coalition represents about 35,000 state workers in UAW Local 6000, SEIU Local 517M, AFSCME Council 25, Michigan Corrections Officers SEIU and Michigan State Employees Association. (Workers at the Grand Rapids veterans home are members of AFSCME Local 261.)

"The declining standards of care at the Grand Rapids veterans home show that privatization fails to deliver the 'value for money' that the Governor is seeking," said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada. "Veterans and their families deserve better in this case – and in every case, Michigan families deserve the most efficient and effective use of their tax dollars. State employees continue to try to work with the Governor on more forward-thinking ways to reduce costs while protecting services, including those we outlined in the New Solutions for Michigan report. "

The coalition's New Solutions for Michigan report issued earlier this year proposed reforms that could protect essential services and save more than $185 million in FY2011-12 alone. The report calls for:

  • Prioritizing frontline service delivery and reducing managers;
  • Pursuing better value from contractors, consultants and agency staff; and
  • Delivering better services through collaboration between management and frontline employees.

Based on the report, Gov. Snyder recently directed the State Personnel Director to conduct a review of the state's worker-to-manager ratio and potential cost savings.

New Solutions for Michigan revealed that the state classified workforce averages fewer than six non supervisory staff for every manager and/or supervisor (5.87:1) – well above the norm in other states and the private sector. Increasing Michigan's ratio by just one staff per manager would yield a savings of $75 million annually in wages alone. Moving the state toward an 11:1 target in the long term could save hundreds of millions in annual spending and protect essential services.

New Solutions for Michigan also exposed the big money Michigan spends on contracted services. Excluding community health and higher education, the state spends $1.1 billion on contracts annually. Michigan can save $110 million a year by asking state vendors and contractors to share in the sacrifice by reducing costs by 10 percent. More savings could be realized if Michigan performed a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of contracts, as required in the Public Service Accountability Act, to ensure agencies are providing services in the most cost effective manner possible.

New Solutions for Michigan can be found at: http://www.seiu517m.org/files/2011/05/Fair-Economy-New-Solutions-for-Michigan-FINAL.pdf.

SOURCE Coalition of State Employee Unions