The Golden Guernsey dairy processing plant in Waukesha that supplies milk to schools and supermarkets was closed suddenly Saturday (Jan. 5) when employees showed up for work and were told not to stay, sources said.
Lynn Hiemke, president of Mapleton Dairy Haulers in Oconomowoc, said he was told by Golden Guernsey managers early Saturday that the plant was shutting down.
Hiemke said he was stunned by the closing and left scrambling as he tried to find alternate supplies of milk for hundreds of local schools.
"There's going to be schools without milk on Monday morning - a lot of them - and they don't know it yet," he said.
The dairy operation at 2101 Delafield St. has been under new ownership since last year.
Open Gate Capital, a Los Angeles private equity firm, bought Golden Guernsey after its former owner, Dean Foods, was required to sell the plant to settle antitrust concerns.
The U.S. Department of Justice - along with attorneys general in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan - had raised concerns that Dean Foods would have too much of a share of the school milk supply in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
As a result, they required Dean to sell the Waukesha plant while allowing it to retain its dairy processing plant in De Pere, just south of Green Bay.
An employee who did not want to be identified said the workers were notified Friday night that the plant would be closed. Another employee who arrived at the plant Saturday morning was told not to come to work Saturday or Sunday, a source said.
The plant was locked Saturday afternoon, with vendor trucks parked outside and Golden Guernsey trucks behind the locked fence. The cow statue in front of the plant was still adorned with its festive Christmas hat.
An Open Gate representative did not return a phone call and email seeking comment Saturday. Company president Brad Parks did not return an email or a phone call, and a woman at his home declined to comment.
Golden Guernsey supplies milk to Pick 'n Save as well as other area grocery stores.
Department of Workforce Development spokesman John Dipko said he was unaware of the closing.
Under state law, employers are required to give 60 days notice of any shutdown to city and state officials, and to pay their workers severance payments for 60 days leading up to a shutdown or mass layoff.
The plant had roughly 100 workers, according to employees.
Dean Foods had acquired the De Pere and Waukesha plants from Foremost Farms USA of Baraboo in 2009 for $35 million.
The U.S. Department of Justice intervened the next year, saying the De Pere and Waukesha plants supplied more than 50 percent of the school milk purchased in Wisconsin and the U.P.
Hiemke said his company has been serving the plant, delivering milk to schools across the region from the dairy, since 1976. Mapleton has 14 employees.
"This could take me right under, and I think it's going to," he said.
"The Department of Justice has no clue," Hiemke said. "They have wrecked our plant. It's the federal government going in there, and they wrecked our plant."
Hiemke said he was working to find alternate suppliers for milk for the schools that have been buying Golden Guernsey. "I hope our schools understand we are trying as hard as we can," he said.
Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.