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Why dairy plant workers are threatening to strike in St. Albans

A photo of two large buildings with big metal tanks behind them. On one of the buildings is a "DFA" logo with the words "Dairy Farmers of America" below, and in front of the buildings is a "now hiring" flag.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Workers at the Dairy Farmers of America processing plant in St. Albans are threatening to go on strike by March 5 if they don't reach a contract agreement with the milk cooperative.

Workers at a dairy processing plant in St. Albans could go on strike next month, if they don't reach a contract agreement.

According to the local branch of the Teamsters, about 50 workers at the Dairy Farmers of America plant voted unanimously to authorize a strike on Jan. 26, and have set March 5 as the day they'll walk off the job if they're unable to reach a tentative agreement.

Workers have been without a contract since July. DFA's St. Albans plant is one of the major hubs for dairy processing in the state.

The union has also filed a federal complaint against DFA, alleging the company made unlawful changes to workers' conditions of employment. That includes changes to the plant's seniority system and social media policies, as well as requiring workers to sign non-disclosure agreements.

"Essentially the workers are looking for the company to get serious and get us an offer that's acceptable for our contract," said Curtis Clough, president of the local Teamsters chapter that represents the DFA workers. "They're looking for the company to stop making these unilateral changes and bargain fairly with the union."

In a statement, a DFA official said the company is negotiating with the union in good faith and hopes the sides can soon reach an agreement.

New federal grants for dairy processing

In the meantime, a federal program run through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture is offering two new grants that could improve conditions for dairy plant workers.

The grants, totaling $13 million, are now available through the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC). They aim to help the Northeast dairy industry increase its capacity for processing milk into the products on grocery store shelves.

The money is a unique opportunity according to Laura Ginsburg, who oversees dairy development and innovation for Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture.

"To be completely honest, the fact that there's $13 million of grant funds going out to dairy processing in a coordinated manner is more money that has been on the table for this specific purpose in decades," she said. "It's going to help some. But what we see is a real need for higher levels of investment across the region."

Ginsburg noted that during another grant round for on-farm milk storage and handling, the NE-DBIC put $1 million out for grants, and got back requests totaling $7.8 million from 178 applicants.

"And so that just goes to show you the scale and the scope of need for investment in dairy supply chain systems," she said.

More from Vermont Public: Trucking milk from farm to plant is vital to the dairy business. But Vermont is short on drivers

Ginsburg says these grants for dairy processing can help improve efficiency for the truckers hauling milk from farm to plant.

"What we've been finding in some cases is that the processing plant just can't accept the milk fast enough, and so we have trucks waiting in the receiving yards of these milk plants waiting in line to empty their trucks. So if we can reduce that backlog of the supply chain, then we think that can help more efficiently move milk from farms to plants," she said.

Ginsburg added that the grants should also help with safety for the workers in those plants.

"To improve worker ergonomics or the safety features of the equipment that they're working with, or additional training or efficiencies or robotics," she said.

Ginsburg said she knows there's a lot of pressure on dairy plant workers right now, and thinks about the grants as a way to help alleviate some of that pressure.

Applications for the two grants are due this spring.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp:


Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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