Food service at new Williamson County Jail in question

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - In just a few days a new jail is set to open in Heartland County. But amid the ribbon cutting swirls controversy around the future of food service at the Williamson County Jail.

It all comes down who is going to make the meals for inmates at the new Williamson County Jail, either those who have fixed up plates for years or contract employees from an outside company.

The new kitchen at the jail is not even in use yet. But it's already at the center of a debate of who should use it to cook inmate meals.

"The cost of running a jail just keeps going up and if we can save money I think we have to take a look at it," Williamson County Sheriff Bennie Vick said.

Vick says a private food service provider could save the county 107,000 dollars a year.

"I'm not the Christmas Grinch trying to throw people out of work, but I am trying to save the tax payers $100,000," Vick said.

"The sheriff's office is convinced by privatize these jobs," AFSCME Spokesman Eddie Caumiant said.   "We think there is a potential for dyer consequences involved whenever you privatize a security based operation like a jail."

Currently three union employees make the meals for inmates, one full time and two part-time. Caumiant says the two sides have been trying to work out the differences for the past few months. But adds the talks had been difficult, so the union brought the issues before county commissioners.

"We wanted to make sure the county board was clear on some of our concerns, I think any time there's a difference of opinion there's a potential for passions to rise," Caumiant said.

Those passions became evident at one point during Tuesday's board meeting as Sheriff Vick confronted Caumiant.

Part-time Cook Margaret Browning watched from the back row. She's whipped up meals for inmates for the past 15 years. Browning says she doesn't understand how getting rid of three union cooks can provide the county such a savings. But she adds it's not the paycheck she's upset about losing, rather the job itself.

"I'm going to miss all the people I've got close to over the years," Browning said.

Both groups say they plan to meet in the coming days and continue the bargaining process. Vick says if an outside group does come in the current cooks would be guaranteed an interview.

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