ROCHESTER, Minn. — The closing of the Kemps milk processing operation, plus the shuttering of related AMPI facility, means at least 200 people, many of them longtime employees, could be looking for work in the Rochester area this summer.
"There's going to be a lot of people looking for work, "said John Chappuis, the business agent for Teamsters 120 in Rochester. "We have people there who have been there from 40 years to five years. Nobody even knows how to do a resume, it has been so long."
The Teamsters represent both the 125 Kemps employees and the 75 Associated Milk Producers Inc. workers at the joint processing plant at 700 1st Ave. SE. AMPI, which owns the complex, closed its part of the facility in November and listed the building for sale. The part that Kemps leases is scheduled to close on June 30.
After more than 60 years of processing milk in Rochester, Kemps CEO and President Greg Kurr announced the impending closure with a prepared statement, “In evaluating our options, it became apparent ceasing operations is the best long-term strategy for our business. The employees at this facility have done an excellent job, and we greatly appreciate their hard work and dedication.”
The fate of 16 drivers who transport milk for Kemps is up in the air. The Teamsters are still negotiating about their future.
"There might be a hub for them to deliver milk. That hasn't been decided yet," said Chappuis.
While AMPI's closure of the cheese processing operations was a surprise, the Kemps announcement last week was not unexpected.
"We knew if somebody didn't buy it (the Rochester facility) and extend the lease, that we would not be able to continue there," said Teamsters business agent. "DFA (the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative, which owns Kemps) wasn't interested in buying the building."
The milk plant closure doesn't affect the more than 200 Kemps employees who work at the ice cream production facility on North Broadway. The ice cream plant will remain in operation.
The union is offering the few open positions at the ice cream facility to the milk processing workers, based on seniority.
Kemps is helping employees with relocation and re-training for other jobs, according to the union. However, the Rochester market is flooded with others looking for similar positions with the closure of Seneca's vegetable canning facility, which meant the end of 60 jobs.
In the end, the loss of the Kemps and AMPI jobs will be hard felt in Rochester.
"It (the dairy processing facility) has been a good place to work and provided a lot of great union jobs," Chappuis said.