by Jeff Engel, Reporter, The Business Journal
Golden Guernsey Dairy employees and state officials are still searching for answers after the Waukesha facility’s parent company abruptly and unexpectedly ordered the plant’s closure over the weekend.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development was not notified of the dairy processing plant’s closure in advance, spokesman John Dipko told The Business Journal on Monday afternoon. Under state law, companies employing 50 or more people in Wisconsin may be required to give 60 days notice before a mass layoff or closing.
The dairy facility employed more than 100 people, including about 70 represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 695, based in Madison, said David Fowle, who said he worked at the dairy facility for 17 years.
Several employees are filing complaints with the state over the way the plant was closed, Fowle said.
If it’s determined the facility’s parent company, Los Angeles-based private equity firm OpenGate Capital, improperly closed the facility, employees could recover back pay and benefits for each day the notice wasn’t provided, up to 60 days, Dipko said. The company could face additional liabilities, he said.
“Today, in addition to trying to establish contact with the company, we’ve been working with our regional work force partner to set up rapid response services” for affected workers, Dipko said.
Saturday began like any normal work day for Fowle, 47. But at about 7 a.m., two hours into his shift, he and the small group of employees working that day were called together for a meeting, he said.
Their plant manager announced that he had received an email from OpenGate Capital that instructed him to tell employees to pack their belongings and leave, and that the plant was to be shut down immediately, Fowle said.
“There was no explanation as to why,” Fowle, an Oak Creek resident, said. “It was a great group of people to work with and work for. Having this happen is just a total shock.”
A spokeswoman for OpenGate Capital did not return a phone message and an email seeking comment.
OpenGate Capital bought the facility from Dallas-based Dean Foods Co. in 2011, after Dean Foods was ordered to sell the facility under a settlement of a federal antitrust lawsuit.
The plant manufactured, bottled and distributed dairy products to schools, grocery stores, convenience stores and major retailers in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.