Area dairy farmers comment on First District strike

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 2/17/98.

The two-week-old strike by the First District Associationís production and transportation workers in Litchfield is creating very few problems for local farmers who ship their raw milk to First District for processing.

The fleet of 21 trucks, which brings in 2.8 million pounds of milk daily from 27 counties was idled. Substitute contract drivers and their trucks have been trying to continue the daily routes for First District.

The First District Association office has moved forward with plans to hire permanent subcontractors to haul milk to the plant. First District has sold their trucks, some to the subcontractors. They also announced plans to hire outside workers to test the incoming milk for bacteria and other contaminants, which means nearly 30 percent of the 121 striking workers could be out of a job.

Doug Voss, Paynesville, said their milk is still getting picked up on schedule and they havenít experienced any problems. ďWeíve heard a lot of stories and rumors, but as a dairy producer I canít give my opinion on the strike as I donít know both sides,Ē he added.

Larry Rien, Paynesville, said he had to dump his milk once at the very beginning of the strike. ďThe truckers are new and donít know the routes. One day they were 10 hours behind schedule,Ē Rien said. He has been surprised to find First District able to keep the schedule flowing as good as they have been.

Ron Spanier, Paynesville, said his milk is being picked up late, but that is understandable with substitute drivers unfamiliar with the routes.

ďWith the strike eminent, I checked with other area creameries. We (the farmer) are paying First District $200 a month to come and pick up our milk. AMPI in Paynesville is charging $75 a month and Kraft at Melrose $100,Ē Spanier said.

ďSeveral farmers have talked with First District board members about the difference in rates. The board has been told that if the rates donít come down, they could be losing some patrons,Ē Spanier added. His dad, Cyril, has been with First District 35 years.

Gene Schultz, Paynesville, said the strike isnít benefiting anybody. ďMy milk has been picked up every other day on schedule. At the beginning, I did have a few extra pails sitting around when the truck did not arrive until the third day,Ē Schultz said. ďI have always been satisfied with First District,Ē Schultz added.

Gary Reeck, Paynesville, said in the early days of the strike his milk pickups were delayed. He hasnít experienced any problems as a result of the strike, other than that. He was informed by his substitute trucker that First District has sold their trucks to independent drivers.

ďCreameries across the state are fighting for patrons. This strike will affect First District but as to how much, I donít know,Ē Reeck said.

Last week contract negotiations between striking teamsters and factory managers in Litchfield were stalled. Replacement workers have been keeping the First District plant running, but production at the plant is not what it was when union members were working, Dave Laxen, teamsters union business manager, said.

Dave Peterson, First District president, said the cooperative presented a modified contract to union negotiators last week during negotiation talks. The union rejected the proposal and made a verbal counter offer which was not acceptable to the company.

Peterson says in its offer, First District is not proposing any changes to health insurance benefits for retirees. Under the current contract, First District is responsible for 50 percent of any increase in insurance costs. First District wants to replace the teamstersí pension plan with a jointly administered plan, according to Peterson.

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