CHARLES TOWN – A strike by workers at the dairy that supplies milk to schools in the Eastern Panhandle has left them unable to fill orders and left Jefferson County Schools to scramble for alternative sources.
Assistant Superintendent Ralph Dinges said the school system was told last Wednesday that the strike at the Potomac Farms Dairy, has left them unable to fulfill their contracts with Eastern Panhandle schools. In response, school workers have made trips to pick up replacement milk from the Dairy Maid Dairy in Frederick, Md.
“We actually had to send a truck to go get the milk,” Dinges said. “I actually have my people, who are doing a wonderful job with it.”
“We hope that we can provide the milk for the children of the county,” Dinges said.“It is a day-to-day situation. However, we have Dairy Maid out in Frederick who has been gracious to sell us milk in large quantities without any issues. It is already in half pints, just like we normally would get.”
Potomac Farms Dairy, based in Cumberland, Md., has been hampered by a teamsters strike since the second week of September.
The dairy has walked away from its contracts with seven of the eight counties in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Only Berkeley County was spared.
“That’s a lot of business, you know,” said Jane Lynch, executive director of RESA 8, the agency that serves the eight eastern counties. She is coordinating a joint bid for the affected counties.
“One of our duties is to work with counties on cooperative purchasing and work a cost savings when possible,” Lynch said.
She met with the RESA’s superintendents Friday and by Tuesday was giving information and requesting proposals from dairies.
“Hopefully, we can have some kind of solution that we can sit down with in a couple of weeks,” Lynch said.
Potomac Farms’ unionized delivery staff had been working without a contract since February 2011. The local represents 55 workers at the Cumberland, Md., plant as well as Oakland, Md.; Culpeper and Broadway, Va.; and Moorefield.
“Their supervisors had been delivering,” said Hampshire County Nutrition Director Amy Haines. “This was a total surprise.”
Potomac Farms, which has been owned by Galliker’s Dairy of Johnstown, Pa., since 1984, imposed its final offer in May. The contract dropped a pension plan and did not include retroactive pay.
Workers rejected the offer in June and authorized a strike, both by 9-1 margins. They walked out on Sept. 12.”
Meanwhile, the school system is relying on the regional school authority to negotiate a replacement contract with another supplier.
“The plan right now, for a short period of time, is to continue to do that. Hopefully, at this point we can also work with RESA 8 … (which) is trying to get us another contract to hold us over until we can get a big contract and hold it all together,” Dinges said. “We will figure out again what is the best deal for this county, and we will try to do what is best for all of us.”
There will be only one difference, apart from packaging, that students will notice with the new milk.
“We have refrigerated trucks, so the milk comes over from Frederick in the refrigerated trucks then goes right into the refrigerator. The milk is perfectly safe. The only difference is that, right at this moment, we are only handling one type of milk. So the kids will be having 1 percent white milk,” Dinges said.
— Reporter Jim King contributed to this story.