A study published by the University of Michigan claims that the state's decision to hire a nonunion contractor to run prison cafeterias led to gangs. But the report’s methodology allowed a labor union critical of privatization to hand-pick which prison guards participated in focus groups that the author used as a foundation for his report.

According to the report, "The Michigan Corrections Officers recruited participants, arranged interview locations, and reimbursed participants for travel."

Roland Zullo wrote the publication for the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy at the University of Michigan. It concluded that the contractor's employees were inexperienced, inadequately trained and unfit to work at the prison.

The report stated: “Inmates persuaded contractor employees to smuggle in contraband and commit infractions, such as over-familiarity. Contractor employees were manipulated by inmates to form alliances against officers." It also said that some gangs gained control over kitchens.

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Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz called the claims of gang activity created by contractors “so ridiculous,” according to The Detroit News.

Charles Owens, the Michigan director of the National Federation of Independent Business, questioned the credibility of the study.

“This appears to be another union-produced study with a preconceived outcome being paraded around as research,” Owens said.

Owens said there was a conflict of interest allowing a union critical of privatization to hand-select the people to be involved in the study.

“It would be the same problem if you had the Private Food Service Association select private food service vendors for the focus group,” Owens said.

Zullo said in an email that allowing the union to pick which members participated in the study was helpful in getting corrections officers to come forward and speak with more candor. Zullo’s entire email response can be found here.

Zullo has authored previous studies describing indirect benefits provided by unions as well as articles critical of right-to-work. He is also critical of privatization and claimed on a union-funded online radio network that it played a role in the Flint water crisis.

The Michigan Corrections Organization, the union from which the report drew members of the focus group, is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Its website includes a page touting the report.

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