Longtime AMPI workers looking for jobs for first time in decades
The union that represents Associated Milk Producers Inc. workers in Rochester says the closing of the plant came as a surprise, and now longtime employees who haven't applied for a job in more than 30 years are looking for work.
"It was just, 'Boom!' No warning or anything," said Bill Wedebrand, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 120, of the Nov. 1 announcement at the Southeast Rochester complex. About 75 people work for AMPI there. The Teamsters represent about 60 of those workers.
Company officials blamed the struggling state of the U.S. dairy industry, although the plant closure doesn't mean AMPI is buying less local milk.
Wedebrand said AMPI sent home some of the younger workers right away, and a crew of about 25 "old-timers" are still working at the plant for the next few months to ship out the remaining cheese and re-route milk deliveries to other AMPI facilities, including one in Blair, Wis.
When asked if any Rochester workers could find jobs at AMPI's Wisconsin cheese facilities, Wedebrand said he was told that an ad is being placed for one worker. So the longtime local AMPI employees can't expect any help from that aspect.
"We'll do everything possible to support them," he said. "It's very scary. Really, they (the older AMPI workers) are just lost."
While AMPI has ceased production in the rambling complex, half of it will still be used for milk bottling by Kemps. The dairy processor, which also has its ice cream plant along Rochester's North Broadway, leases the space from AMPI.
"We will continue to lease the facility as AMPI looks for a buyer, and we'll closely monitor the sale of the facility," said Kemps Senior Vice President of Growth and Innovation Rachel Kyllo. "The AMPI cheese plant closure will not impact our business at this time."
Kemps employs 156 people at the AMPI facility, where they produce and package fluid milk, cream, half-and-half, and other fluid dairy products.
The Teamsters Local 120 also represents about 350 Kemps employees in Rochester. Wedebrand said his team is looking at the possibility of finding spots for AMPI workers at Kemps.
The union is talking to AMPI about giving core employees who are still working the same benefits that state regulations provided from the workers who were already let go. The staffers who were immediately cut are receiving 60 days of compensation and benefits. However, the employees that are still working are not expected to see any such benefits after their employment ends.
"We proposed ... to the company that they should get the same opportunity as the younger ones," said Wedebrand. AMPI is considering the possibility, he said.
While the dairy industry has faced turbulent times in recent years, the Minnesota Milk Producers Association does not see the AMPI closing as a bad sign for dairy farmers.
"Aside from the loss of the jobs and ... the heartbreak for farmers, (they) know that their milk is not going to their local communities, it's not like any farmers have lost options," said executive director Lucas Sjostrom. "AMPI has made a business decision about their plant here. In the Upper Midwest, milk is still in demand."
AMPI has been part of the Rochester landscape since the farmer-owned cooperative acquired Rochester Dairy in 1969.