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Organic Valley lays off 39 office employees
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ORGANIC VALLEY is America's largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation's leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents more than 2,000 farmers in 35 U.S. states and achieved $1.1 billion in 2017 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a wide range of organic dairy, eggs and produce.

LAFARGE - A large layoff shook the offices of Organic Valley last week, as the LaFarge-based cooperative dismissed 39 employees–including some senior managers.

While rumors abounded on social media and elsewhere, Organic Valley did try to offer some perspective on the situation Monday in response to questions from the Independent-Scout. OV spokesperson Elizabeth McMullen offered a written explanation of the layoffs. 

“We’ve recently undergone an internal restructuring and review to ensure we are providing as much value as possible to the nearly 2,000 small, organic family farms that share ownership in our cooperative,” the official release stated. “We identified some office positions within our employee base that are not aligned with our top priorities in an intensely competitive marketplace.  It was a difficult decision to let go of some of our talented and dedicated team members, and we are grateful for their years of service. 

“CROPP Cooperative continues to grow and this difficult decision was made solely to ensure that we meet our commitment to give as many organic family farms as possible a viable financial future,” the statement noted. “We will continue to give consumers more organic food choices that they can trust were produced with the highest standards of animal care and farming practices.”

The recent round of layoffs follows the surprise resignation of a founding farmer and the longtime CEO, George Siemon, in March. To some current and former employees of the co-operative, the layoffs seemed tied to that resignation.

A former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said after Siemon resigned there was widespread nervousness among certain workers about the future of their employment at the cooperative. Last week, the employees learned who was on the list to be downsized.

While rumors swirled about the size of the layoffs and the compensation package being offered to those affected, OV spokesperson Elizabeth McMullen responded to questions from the Independent-Scout concerning details about the situation.

“This process resulted in a number of difficult but necessary organizational changes, including the elimination of 39 office positions, which represents approximately five percent of our general and administrative positions,” McMullen stated in a written clarification of the layoffs. 

“We deeply regret the impact this has on CROPP employees and their families,” McMullen wrote in her response. “The cooperative is offering what we hope will be considered generous severance benefits along with outplacement services to make this transition as smooth as possible, and to help affected employees pursue new career opportunities. We appreciate the dedication to CROPP’s mission and the many contributions these employees made to CROPP.

“The difficult actions we are taking now will better position the cooperative to support our next chapter of growth,” McMullen explained. “Our leaner and redesigned structure, with clear focus and priorities, will lead to a maximized value of our members’ products in the marketplace, and ultimately to the continued growth and ability of organic agriculture to serve as an engine for saving family farms around the United States.”

The depth of the layoffs was demonstrated in the years of service and senior management responsibilities of some of those involved. Although no names or positions were officially released, social media postings and anonymous confirmations of current and former employees indicate that many of those whose positions were eliminated had years and even decades of service in the 31-year-old co-op. One of those that appeared to be laid off had worked at Organic Valley for 30 years. The list appeared to include senior managers in the marketing, sales and design departments, as well as at least one senior member of the co-op’s mission team.

Some questioned the wisdom of how the layoffs were handled.

A former employee and longtime Organic Valley insider, who requested anonymity to comment, noted that the co-operative could’ve reduced staffing by attrition.

“Look, at a place as big as Organic Valley people are constantly leaving for one reason or another,” the former employee explained. “One way to go about this would’ve been attrition. As people leave, they are not replaced and you work with the remaining workforce to cover those responsibilities.”

Reactions of Organic Valley farmers to the layoffs have yet to be gauged. Like wise, the reaction of investors is not yet known.

The former employee who talked with the Independent-Scout questioned whether the layoffs were handled in a way that matched the co-op’s stated mission. 

Impacts from the layoffs will not only affect Organic Valley and the remaining employees in ways yet to be understood, they will also have a definite ripple effect in the rural communities where most of those laid off now live.