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Dairy Workers, Plant Employees Seek Answers After Golden Guernsey Closing

Employees of Waukesha dairy are frustrated with the lack of information about paychecks and health insurance after business shut down Saturday with no warning.

Story updated at 5:15 p.m. Monday with details on state helping workers

The parking lot at Golden Guernsey is quiet – only a few cars are parked at the dairy processing plant. The semi trucks that haul processed milk from the Wisconsin facility are stationary.

A handful of employees were milling around outside Monday afternoon, hoping to get into the factory to remove their personal belongings. After waiting around in the cold, unable to gain entrance to the building and frustrated with unanswered questions, the workers finally gave up on getting their items for the day.

Some of them were still unaware the factory had closed until they showed up for work. They only hoped it was an ugly rumor.

“We are totally lost,” said a 20-year veteran of the factory, who declined to give his name. “We don’t know if we are getting paid.”

They also don’t know what to do about health insurance, whether they get severance pay, or if they should or can apply for unemployment benefits. They are stuck with unanswered questions and hoping for more information.

“It was a darn good place to work,” said a 23-year employee of the company who also declined to give his name. “People are hurting here.”

The 100-plus employees who were told not to come into work are left wondering what happened, what went wrong and why there was no warning when Golden Guernsey shut down on Saturday.

“They said they’re closing the doors,” Daryl Etzler, a 33-year veteran at the milk processing plant, told FOX6 News. “Everybody had grouped up for a small meeting, and all they got was an email saying, 'Immediately close the plant. Operations are done.’”

“No milk haulers were allowed in and no trucks left for deliveries,” said another employee who asked to not be named.

State to Assist Workers

On Monday afternoon, the state Department of Workforce Development said it was taking steps to assist workers affected plant closing.

The department, along with its regional partner, the Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington (WOW) Workforce Development, will hold "Rapid Response" orientation sessions for dairy employees on Jan. 16 and 17. The agencies' goal is to help workers new jobs that pay as well or better than their previous ones. Services include training assistance to improve existing skills or provide new job skills for a different occupation.

The orientations will be held at  the Workforce Development Center, 892 Main St., Suite A, Pewaukee.  Affected workers are asked to pre-register by calling (262) 695-8041.

“Clearly, the closure of the plant was unexpected for the employees and the Waukesha community, and the abrupt nature of the act is particularly troubling,” Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson said in a statement. “We want the workers to know that we are here to support them and are working as quickly as we can to initiate services that will assist them and their families during this uncertain and difficult time."

The department confirmed Monday that its office was never contacted about the plant closure. Voice mails left with OpenGate Capital, a California-based investment firm that owns the dairy, have not been returned.

State law requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide 60 days notice before implementing plant shutdowns or mass layoffs. Exceptions apply to state employees and charitable or tax-exempt institutions.

John Dipko, spokesman for the Department of Workforce Development, said the department has attempted contact with the business to learn more information and to provide rapid response services to the displaced employees. The plant closure was "very much unexpected," Dipko said.

"We have not been able to establish contact at this time," he said.

Today's TMJ4 reported Sunday that Golden Guernsey President Brad Parks confirmed that the plant has closed, though he wouldn't say that the 112 employees have lost their jobs. He told the TV station it was an "ongoing" process.

Plant Closure Impacts Dairy Industry

Golden Guernsey employees aren’t the only ones looking for answers. Local dairy farmers and distributors are wondering what the future holds for their milk sales.

Robert Sciortino, a milk hauler from Waukesha who delivers Golden Guernsey milk to Dominicks grocery stores in the Chicago area, said he received a call stating "we are shutting down. Come and get your stuff."

The closure leaves a "trickle down effect" as farms, milk haulers, distributors and employees at the factory are struggling to understand what happened.

"They told me exactly what they told everybody else," Sciortino said. "There has been no official word."

Mandy Kadrich works for a family-owned dairy farm near Delafield. The milk wasn’t picked up on Saturday, she said, but trucks eventually arrived at the farm late Sunday morning.

The dairy farm’s milk typically is sent to the Golden Guernsey plant in Waukesha. Now it is headed to facilities in other parts of Wisconsin.

“There are no answers as to what caused it or why,” Kadrich told Waukesha Patch on Monday.

Milk distributors are also questioning what happened as they make adjustments following the plant closure.

“The entire upper Midwest dairy industry is just reeling from this,” distributor Chris Olsen told FOX6.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Lynn Mielke, president of Mapleton Dairy Haulers in Oconomowoc, was told by Golden Guernsey managers early Saturday that the plant was shutting down.

Most Schools Have Enough Milk

Mielke told the newspaper he was scrambling to find alternate supplies of milk for hundreds of local schools that purchase milk from the company.

By Monday, however, most area school districts had found other sources of milk for students and weren't worried about a shortage.

The company started in 1930 as a farmer-owned cooperative in Milwaukee, and by 1935, Golden Guernsey delivered milk to the homes of 20,000 customers in Wisconsin, according to its website. By 1955 construction began at its current facility at 2101 Delafield St.

Dean Foods was ordered to sell the plant by the Wisconsin Department of Justice in order to settle an antitrust lawsuit because Dean Foods owned about 60 percent of milk processing plants in the state. an investment firm that planned to continue operations of the dairy processing facility.

Jeff Priest January 08, 2013 at 05:58 AM
I worked almost 19 years at G.G. leaving in 2004 to live Up North. G.G. was a wonderful oportunity for me and my family. I worked with many very good, hard working, fair and honest people at G.G. It hurts me to see these people treated in this way. They deserve far better. But times certainly have changed, and the bigshots apparently do not care who gets in the way of their obscene profits... sell the pieces and make the profits, ... or reopen and rehire the same workers with less wage, vacation and benefit costs. Act two to follow.... Jeff P.
Victoria Hekkers January 08, 2013 at 11:21 AM
I would think that one of the biggest fears for these employees relates to their insurance coverage.. They probably don't know if they have any.. They can't go to the Dr., they can't get prescriptions filled and they get hassled by the hospitals if they can't prove they have insurance. These people have families and these families need health care and they are probably on hold until someone tells them something. I provided some consulting for a company that "forgot" to pay the insurance premiums before they closed the company. Those employee's were terrified and desperate.
Becky Lyon January 08, 2013 at 01:42 PM
It seems like GG has been here forever! To hear it has closed without warning is just too much to handle. I just don't understand how this can happen without due notice. So here we go again. Somewhere in the future there will not plants, factories and business, just government run agencies. May as well move to Russia!
Becky Lyon January 08, 2013 at 01:46 PM
It is really sad that one has to anticipate losing his/her job even if it is solid. What is going on in this world today??
Amy January 08, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Why are many of you talking corp greed when it was the fed gov who forced the state gov to force deans to sell cuz they sold too much milk? The TV news did not even mention this. Isn't it ironic that the fed gov forces schools to sell milk but sues the plant that provides it?
Becky Lyon January 08, 2013 at 02:56 PM
Thanks for the info. I am now more aware. I guess I have a lot to learn about the difference between corp and fed gov. If you could sent me info or where to look to understand this it would would be most helpful. Thank you for putting me in my place. I look forward to hearing from you. I like to keep up on issues about what is going on here Waukesha
B. Guenther January 08, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Yes Sarah, the company was purchased by an investment firm. Question. Did the investment firm have any idea how to run a dairy company? Because I can tell you that prior to the sale the company that owned them did and it was running fine. However, as usually happens when the government sticks their nose where it doesn't belong, things went south pretty quickly.
James January 08, 2013 at 03:56 PM
Its way deeper than we think. Milk is only good for 15 days thats it! Now we have farmers with no where to go with there product and the company is in calafornia you know the other dairy state. I see businesses closeing all over waukesha! So the cost of liveing goes up!
Herbert January 08, 2013 at 03:59 PM
I can only speculate the company will be sold (or restructured) and reopen like Jeff P. mentions above.... with a lower pay scale for there employees and less overhead to be competitive. Something caused this abrubt shutdown that is what we are all waiting to hear about.
Steve ® January 08, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Obama voters choose the government over job creating capitalism
Amy January 08, 2013 at 04:38 PM
It should be as simple as this; produce a product-sell the product- people buy the product-people have jobs. Instead it goes like this: produce a product that the gov subsidises (taxpayers pay for)-sell the product to the same people (taxpayers) who helped pay to produce it-buy the product that we actually helped pay to make- regulate the product to death-the people lose their jobs. The people have no product that they paid to make! Who wins in this? No one. We all get screwed. Gov Walker needs to look into this shady deal that left more people jobless. I do agree with James that it is suspicious that a CA company bought and closed a WI dairy co in a year! Follow the money!
Jane January 08, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Capitalism is indeed a powerful tool, but I consider it as a means to an end (i.e., the welfare of mankind), rather than an end in itself. Thus, we have a need for prudent regulation.
John Smith January 08, 2013 at 06:38 PM
Its Obama's fault. Very sad, but under this President more will fall.
Rodney Roskopf January 08, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Who said the farmer has no place to go with there milk? The milk that was going into the G.G. plant was purchased from outher milk co-ops, like Foremost Farms and Family Daires. They (the co ops) picked up and purchased the farmers milk and delivered the milk to the G.G. plant. When the plant shut down the milk was still being picked up at the farm but was being trucked to a different milk plant or cheese factory.
Atron January 08, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Why doesn't the media get on a plane and go out to OpenGateCapital and see what kind of an interview can be done? God knows they go all over our country to report on other minor issues, so why not now?
Nicole Ibealright Damico January 08, 2013 at 08:54 PM
doesn't opengatecaptiol have an office here? or they just run out of cali?
W . Benz January 08, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Thanks to JB Van Rino and Wis dept of Justice.
Herbert January 08, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Andrew Nikou the Founder and CFO of Open Gate says the following under his bio on the companies web site: "Mr. Nikou recognizes the importance of supporting communities and organizations that need financial and leadership support in order to thrive. To that end, Andrew dedicates a portion of the profits from each of his investments to both charitable and political organizations including children’s health and research groups, mental health support groups and microfinance organizations." I feel much better about the closing now.. Don't you?
Becky Lyon January 08, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Sounds to me that this Mr. Andrew Nikou is full of himself. So why can't anyone get a hold of him? He needs to come clean and give us answers.
Nuitari (Grand Master Editor) January 08, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Don't forget his secret mistress Eric Holder.
Nuitari (Grand Master Editor) January 08, 2013 at 10:48 PM
He's too busy counting the money his company was forced to make.
Rodney Roskopf January 09, 2013 at 12:50 AM
Open Gate Capital no longer lists G.G. as a current investment on it's web page.
Nikki Hundt Prohaska January 09, 2013 at 10:11 AM
Dean's was forced to stop operating the UNION plant. They are entitled to view fiscal reports of loss so they had the documents showing the losses through the last year! My questions: Why didn't THEY step up when the plant was up for sell and attempt "employee owned" operations? Did they NOT check the stocks and watch the loss to alert their PAYING THEIR WAGE employees what was going on? Please! OGC and the US Goverment had this planned! Roundy's stepping up and wanted to plant during the sale! Nope, DEnied! 4 other locals had interest in the sale... NOPE, DEnied! I'd trust a milk source NOT controlled by our fabulous government and a puppet in California for them! I don't want a 3rd eye drinking a glass of milk
TJ Lobner January 09, 2013 at 03:27 PM
I was also effected by GG closing. Was a month shy of 14 years. It's all Open Gate Capitals fault! If you read the history of their buys,sells,closings, etc... you will see that sonething isn't right. GG with stood being sold twice, and we stayed in business. Now we can't make it? OGC wouldn't even let GG find a buyer! Why is that? Glad they can sleep at night.
Nuitari (Grand Master Editor) January 09, 2013 at 03:37 PM
OGC let GG find a buyer? Isn't it OGC that couldn't find a buyer and thus just liquidated GG? Your account is foggy.
Steve ® January 09, 2013 at 03:51 PM
You're company was forced to be sold by Obama and Company. You guys were purchased by a firm that also owns TV Guide. Brilliant move.
Becky Lyon January 09, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Steve Where do you get you information? Just wondering what TV Guide has to do with this.
Rodney Roskopf January 09, 2013 at 08:43 PM
OGC-G.G. has now filed chapter 7. Now someone can come in and buy it for pennies on the dollar.
William McKerrow January 14, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Being the grandson of the orginal founder Gavin McKerrow. Seeing this is like being told of a death in the family. I was in my early teens when he passed away. My father took the helm for a period of time. He then turned it over to someone else. Golden Guernsey Dairy was founded on being a Co-op, farmers and plant employees own stock in it. Somewhere that changed, My grandfather fought very hard in the mid 60's to maintain employee owned even with threats to his life. It is a sad day to see this slip into the could have been of history. Family farms continue to fade into history which was the major base for this Co-op. We can ask for help from the local business and the State. But for any kind of a chance for GG would be the Wisconsin farmers and those that work in the plant to elect a spokesperson to represent their interests. In other words going back to the founding principle that started the dairy during the Great Depression. William A. McKerrow Jr.
burnaka January 18, 2013 at 02:24 AM
Funny but actually now Dean Foods might be able to buy it back. Here is why. Part of the DOJ ruling against Dean stated that Dean had to clear any purchase, of any bottling plant with the DOJ if the purchase price was above a certain dollar figure. There was no restrictions on the amount of milk they would be then able to sell, just on the purchase price. Not saying Dean would necessarily want the plant back, but they did run it at a profit. Dean has had to close plants over the years too, milk sales have been on a slow decline for years. However, in periods where milk margins shrink, and gas prices are high, because of their size they have been able to negotiate the land mines.

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