Nov. 08--ALBANY -- Carlos Quinones is a busy man these days.
A catering and maintenance supervisor for the massive food-service operation that feeds thousands of state workers daily at Empire State Plaza and the Capitol, it is Quinones' responsibility to ensure all the kitchen equipment will be in good shape on Nov. 22 -- the day he'll lose his job.
Nearly 130 workers are facing layoffs the week before Thanksgiving as food-service firm Sodexo USA ends its 15-year relationship with the state at the Plaza.
"There's a lot of people here that just don't know what they're going to do," said deli counter worker Janice Bush of East Greenbush, who has been at the Plaza for 15 years. "We're literally like two weeks away from not having jobs."
In the months since Sodexo's exit was announced, the chatter in the Capitol complex has concerned who will replace the outfit that fuels the bureaucrats and power brokers who run New York. But as the clock ticks, food workers say they've been kept out of the loop about what's ahead, with little help from their employer, their union or the state.
Quinones, of Colonie, has worked at the Plaza for about eight years. He said many colleagues are working as hard as ever "til the bitter end" in hopes of landing new jobs.
"We're just basically left on our own to fend for ourselves," he said. "They're not not treating us right. They're not treating us wrong. They're just not treating us."
Some, like gregarious 12-year grill master Charlie Horton, have applied for jobs with Sodexo's only known successor, Mazzone Hospitality, which the state announced this week will take over the catering franchise at the Plaza's convention center and a handful of other sites around the Capitol.
But the Office of General Services, the agency that serves as the state's property manager, has yet to announce who will take over the complex's cafeterias and food court, where many of the roughly 70 full-time employees work.
It was not immediately clear Thursday how many of Sodexo's workers Mazzone plans to hire.
With no word from Mazzone, Horton said he has also applied for work with the state's parking management office and in the kitchen at the Hooters restaurant in Colonie -- a job that would come with a nearly $1-an-hour pay cut and no health insurance.
"I couldn't take a $10-an-hour job and expect to pay for health care," said Horton, of Rensselaer, during a pre-lunch-rush break Thursday, pausing momentarily to hail a customer by first name and challenge him to a round of the smartphone game Words With Friends.
"It doesn't seem like we're getting as much help as we should be getting," he said, noting how soon Sodexo's exit will come: "You're talking six days before Thanksgiving here."
In a statement, Department of Labor spokesman Chris White said the agency is encouraging the new vendor to hire as many of Sodexo's employees as possible.
"Our primary concern is to keep the workers on the job," White said, adding that the agency is planning a "an on-site Rapid Response orientation" to if necessary help workers find new jobs, assess the skills needed for job vacancies, find training and learn about unemployment benefits.
Some workers hope they'll land at the University at Albany, where Sodexo took over the food service operation from another firm, Chartwells, in June -- though they fear that might mean part-time work for less money and fewer benefits. In that transition, 244 of Chartwells' 471 employees were rehired by Sodexo, a university spokesman said. Stacy Bowman-Hade, a spokeswoman for Sodexo, said workers are encouraged to apply for any openings the firm has in the region.
Part of the problem for workers, Bowman-Hade said, is that the state hasn't yet revealed its full plan to replace Sodexo. "Without knowing the (new operator) yet, it's harder for them to make that decision, or to know what their options are," she said.
And it appears the state might not know the full plan yet, either. OGS has said it will make an announcement, as it did with Mazzone on Wednesday, when it has a signed contract with a new operator.
Emily Vick, of the Rochester Regional Joint Board of Workers United, which represents some of Sodexo's workers at the Plaza, said a firm reached out to the union "within the last two weeks" saying the state had asked it to bid on the Plaza contract.
Vick said her conversations with Mazzone and the other firm -- which she declined to identify -- left her confident both companies would recognize the union and hire back many of the existing workers.
But Ellen Collins of Albany can't afford to wait. Collins, a 15-year veteran, has already drafted paperwork to start tapping her pension early to cover what unemployment won't, even though that move would cut her benefit once she actually retires.
"I don't have a choice, and the job market out there isn't all that great," said Collins, a Liberty Cafe cashier. "You gotta do what you gotta do."
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