Rally planned Aug. 11 to support locked-out sugar workers
By Barb Kucera, Workday editor 4 August 2011
|MOORHEAD - Workers locked out of sugar processing plants across the Red River Valley will gather Aug. 11 to protest at the headquarters of American Crystal Sugar. Other union members are showing support by signing an on-line petition and blocking deliveries to the factories.
|Some 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco & Grain Millers union were barred from their jobs Monday by the company after they rejected Crystal Sugar’s contract offer by an overwhelming margin. The company has hired out-of-state workers to run some operations at the plants, the union said.
The rally is scheduled for noon, Thursday, Aug. 11, outside American Crystal Sugar headquarters at 101 N. Third St., Moorhead. Participants will also march to the nearby bridge spanning the Red River between Moorhead and Fargo, North Dakota, then go to Davy/Memorial/Riverfront Park to hear labor leaders and other speakers.
The union plans to run buses to bring members from Drayton, N.D., Crookston and East Grand Forks, said Mark Froemke, a union officer helping to coordinate the effort. Community residents and members of other unions also are scheduled to participate.
Those who cannot attend can show support by signing an on-line petition coordinated by the Minnesota AFL-CIO. More than 3,000 people had signed by mid-week.
“We want to show people they’re not alone,” Froemke said.
Problems for deliveries
The locked-out workers have been conducting informational picketing at the Crystal Sugar facilities and at hotels housing workers who have taken their place. Crystal Sugar hired the replacement workers through Strom Engineering, a Minnetonka-based company with “unmatched experience in managing strike-related projects and supplying personnel throughout North America and Europe,” according to its website.
Cars in the hotel parking lot carry license plates from North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi, Froemke said. The replacement workers reportedly are being paid $26 to $28 an hour, plus an $80 per day per diem – much more than Crystal Sugar employees normally earn.
“And that’s not talking about what Strom is getting on top of that,” Froemke noted. “They’re getting paid an awful pretty penny for doing their dastardly deed.”
The locked-out workers had reason to cheer in the past couple days when the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced its members would not make deliveries to the plants because of the lockout. Froemke said he witnessed loud applause when one driver called his supervisor to announce he wasn’t making the delivery, then turned around without dropping off a load of rebar steel.
While the union expects the company will find another way to get deliveries, “It’s an important sign of solidarity and a good psychological boost,” Froemke said.
Coming up on a deadline?
While Crystal Sugar is currently operating without its experienced workforce, it has nowhere near the personnel needed to staff the plants during the sugar beet harvest, which Froemke said had been slated to start Aug. 19 because of this year’s bumper crop.
During the fall campaign, as it is called, the facilities are buzzing with activity as trucks deliver beets to the yards and holding areas, non-stop, 24 hours a day. The beets are stored and processed into sugar and by-products such as animal feed.
The company is gambling that union members struggling to make ends meet without a paycheck will pressure the union to agree to the company’s demands to undermine health care coverage and job security, Froemke said. But he believes members will stand strong.
“The contract is so bad there’s no way we can deal with it,” he said.
For more information
See the special lockout website.
Unions build support for locked-out sugar workers
On the Blue Stem Prairie website, view links to several news articles and editorials on the lockout
Sugar workers locked out in Red River Valley
Sugar workers fear lockout in Red River Valley