Dakota Premium, the only meatpacking plant still operating in South St. Paul, idled production July 2, leaving 300 workers, including 275 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, out of work indefinitely.
Local 1189 President Don Seaquist thinks the closure is more definite than indefinite.
“The company’s public statement is that this is a temporary ceasing of operations due to a lack of cattle,” Seaquist said. “The cattle part is true.
“The temporary part I am suspect about because they can project the cattle herds out almost three years. So they know there isn’t going to be any more cattle. I’m not sure why they’re saying it’s temporary as opposed to a permanent closure.”
Before closing, Dakota Premium had been slaughtering about 500 head of cattle per day, down from a capacity of 900 to 1,000 at the plant’s peak, Seaquist said. Drought across the country in recent years, particularly in the Midwest, has reduced the number of cattle ranchers are raising.
If Seaquist is right – if Dakota Premium is closed for good in South St. Paul – it marks the end of an era in the city that was home to more than 5,000 meatpacking jobs in its prime. South St. Paul High School’s nickname, the Packers, is a nod to that legacy, one the city’s residents have not been too eager to preserve, Seaquist said
“This is the last packing plant in South St. Paul, but I don’t think it hurts the city’s feelings to see it go,” he said. “They’ve been after this packing plant for a while now anyway because they’re looking for clean industry, not food processing and packing.”
Companies like Hormel and Dakota Premium have been gradually moving operations from urban to rural communities since the 1970s, Seaquist said.
Dakota Premium held a job fair for idled workers after the announcement. Seaquist said about 70 members will transfer to plants in Long Prairie, Yankton, S.D, and Green Bay, Wis.
The company, which gave workers two days’ notice of the idling, will continue health insurance coverage for Local 1189 members through August. The local held meetings for affected members last month with the state’s Dislocated Worker Program.
The impact of the plant shutdown is a blow to several immigrant communities in the Twin Cities. Dakota Premium’s workforce was “largely minority,” Seaquist said, filling the local’s ranks with Somali, Burmese and Latino members.
“We had third-generation family members working in that plant,” he said. “Whole families – fathers, grandfathers, sons, wives and mothers – of folks that are going to have to go elsewhere for work.”