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60 AFFECTED BY LAUNDRY CLOSING

Angelica Corp. will close its hospital laundry on Jefferson Avenue in November, the approximately 60 workers at the linen service have been told.

The St. Louis-based company is offering workers transfer rights to a sister plant in Batavia, workers said.

However, workers interviewed outside the laundry this week said commuting to the Genesee County community 30 miles from Buffalo wasn't an option for keeping their $7- to $10-an-hour jobs.

"There's free transportation for 90 days (after transfer), then you're on your own," said Janice Woodward of Buffalo, a nine-year employee.

The shutdown comes two years after the linen supplier signed a contract with Teamsters Local 264. The union is negotiating a package to cushion the displaced workers but can't block the plant closing, secretary-treasurer Robert Klinko said.

"The building is in terrible shape and maybe borderline to being unsafe," he said.

Philip J. Cernuto, Angelica vice president for human resources, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

The company may keep a skeleton staff at the Jefferson Avenue plant to maintain a presence in the city, but the volume of work, aging building and inefficient equipment make the location untenable, Angelica said in a letter to the Teamsters.

Workers said the loss of jobs in the economically downtrodden neighborhood will be a hard blow. Many have worked for five years or more at the laundry, which employed more than 100 workers as recently as 1997.

Annette Smith, an 11-year employee, said she is looking to replace her $10 an hour job at Angelica to support her two children, but there are few opportunities available.

"I don't want to see the place close."

Commuting to Batavia would take too much time away from home, presenting child-care expenses she can't afford, she said.

Among the company's business setbacks was the recent loss of a $600,000 contract with Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the hospital confirmed.

"We definitely would have preferred to keep the work here, but we couldn't get (quality) problems worked out," said Roswell General Counsel Michael B. Sexton.

The hospital worked with the company for three months this summer before accepting a slightly lower bid from a competitor in Allentown, Pa., he said.

The Buffalo laundry had performed the Roswell work until recently, when it was shifted to Angelica's Batavia site before being lost to the out-of-state competitor, workers said.

Edward Skibinski, president of the laundry workers union that represents the Batavia plant, railed at Roswell's decision and at Angelica's closing in Buffalo.

"We're spending millions of dollars in this state to keep work here, but when it gets down to these poor people who need some sort of safety net, there's nothing," he said.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency repeatedly contacted Angelica offering to help it stay in the county, but the company hasn't responded, executive director Ronald Coan said. Concerns about the viability of the Buffalo laundry have circulated for some time, he said.

The Batavia laundry is a newer and larger facility than Buffalo, with a staff of 135 and growing, Skibinski said. The site is represented by the AFL-CIO Laundry and Dry Cleaners Union Local 168.

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