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.
- Golden Guernsey employees seeking a job? King Juice Company in Milwaukee asked Patch to share this employment listing.
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.