Food Service Partners skips town without paying employees
Food Service Partners came into town with a bang.
There were big promises and a big press conference. Even the governor was there...
Then came a very loud thud, which happened earlier this week.
The owners' officially "turned in their keys" on Thursday, and the facility on the campus of Central State Hospital is now shuttered. On their way out of town, the company never paid its employees for the final two-plus weeks of work, according to multiple people familiar with the facility who spoke with Baldwin2K News.
"It was just lie after lie. (Food Service Partner Executive Director) Justin (Bizarro) was hiring new people all the way up to late last week," said Deidra Lee, a now former employee. "(Bizarro) knew that it was all over, but he kept hiring new people and kept leading all of the employees on, just so he could get all the work out of us that he could before they closed down without paying us."
During last week's meeting, according to Lee, Bizarro also informed employees that they wouldn't immediately be paid, and he couldn't guarantee exactly when they'd be paid. Some of the employees saw the writing on the wall and never came back to work after that, while others continued working into the next week, hoping that things would change.
Nothing changed, though.
Lee, who started working at the facility two weeks ago, still hasn't seen a dime for her work. She says that "the whole thing was a setup."
"There have been people working crazy overtime, and Justin was giving out all of the overtime that people wanted," she said. "No one may ever see any of the money."
Shambria Coats was one of those employees who was working crazy overtime.
"We were getting it. I mean getting it – working as hard as we could for as long as we could," she said.
FSP also operates facilities in four other states, and presumably all of the employees in those states are screwed, too. Andrew Schlosser is one of them. Schlosser was a roving employee who worked in oversight and logistics. He worked every other week here in Milledgeville. Schlosser said that he actually hasn't been paid since late June.
"At the beginning of this year, it became sort of obvious that there were financial problems cropping up, problems paying for equipment," he said. "It just all sort of went downhill from there."
To compound matters, unfortunately for Lee and Coats and Schlosser, Food Service Partners isn't readily providing any record of salaries and employment information, and employees haven't had access to the Paycom system in the last two weeks. Paycom is a software service used by many large companies like Food Service Partners for HR and payroll.
"Basically, at this point it will be impossible or next to impossible for any of us to file for unemployment," Schlosser said.
Coats said that she fears the same thing.
The story gets even stranger and more bizarre, however.
Coats and Lee both stated that "the time clock stopped working" earlier this month.
"In the system we use, we couldn't go in and see when we clocked and and when we clocked out and how many hours we'd worked," Coats said. "A group of us went to the HR director after a few days, and she said that she could't get in either. For all we know, there's no record of us working these last few weeks."
The Central State Hospital Redevelopment Authority is the owner of the Parham Kitchen facility, and Food Service Partners was their tenant. Walter Reynolds, the CSHRA's Executive Director, offered some clarity, in terms of the timetable of employees being paid for their final few weeks.
"As I understand it, the court will appoint a trustee to oversee the (Chapter 7 bankruptcy) liquidation of the assets of the company. Employees are pretty high on the list of individuals who get paid once assets are freed up," Reynolds said. "Exactly when that will be, I don't think anyone could say, but they ultimately will be paid for the time."
FSP first set up shop in the spring of 2020 in the old Bobby Parham Kitchen (or "Central Kitchen), located on the campus of Central State Hospital. The Parham Kitchen is a massive facility, clocking in at roughly 140,000 square feet was previously touted as “the world’s largest flash freeze kitchen.” For many years, thousands of meals were prepared each day and shipped off to different mental hospitals and state prisons throughout Georgia.
During the big 2020 press conference, Bizzarro told the press that the company eventually would hire between 400 to 500 people at its Milledgeville facility over the course of five years. That number never grew any higher than 75-80, however, and in the last few months the number of employees had dropped to around 40 or 50.
Reynolds said that supply chain issues, stemming primarily for the strict COVID procedures in China, ultimately got the best of the company.
"Some companies were fairly nimble during the pandemic, and others didn't manage as well," he said.