Cost of Crystal Sugar lockout to communities: $30 million and counting
By Amy Masciola 6 December 2011
|MOORHEAD - When a company locks out workers and won’t negotiate a contract, the entire community suffers a massive economic loss—as a new report on the economic effects of American Crystal Sugar Co.’s lockout of 1,300 workers in the Upper Midwest details.
|According to “A Region on the Ropes,” even as the company reported record profits during its annual meeting last week, families of locked-out workers are losing $1,000 to $2,300 per month, and the local economy of the Red River Valley has had direct losses of nearly $12 million during the four months of the lockout.
The report, issued by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, states: “Instead of continuing negotiations with its employees, Crystal Sugar has made increasing profits and compensation for its executives the priority. The Company has hired inexperienced, non-union contract workers and is turning a blind eye to the wider economic fallout, which to date totals an estimated $30.5 million.”
More than 300 locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers and their supporters turned out for a public meeting with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in Moorhead Saturday. He urged the two sides to return to the bargaining table and commit to negotiating until a resolution is reached.
Dayton offered to host negotiations and to stay involved in the process until it’s resolved. Union members have embraced the governor’s proposal and are willing to meet the company and the governor as early as Dec. 13 to resume negotiations.
Local BCTGM unions organized the meeting, along with area labor councils and the Minnesota AFL-CIO and North Dakota AFL-CIO.
Roger Delage, president BCTGM Local 267G, says the report’s findings “reveal the true cost of this lockout to our communities in dollars and cents. It’s time we ended it and got back to the bargaining table. Our members want to work.”
Union members expressed frustration at the company’s priorities.
“Their recent financials looked very good in part because of our hard work,” said Renae Fredrickson, a locked-out worker. “Dave Berg told the shareholders that our contract was like a tumor and that his strategy is to cut that tumor out, and that strategy is coming at a high cost to all of us.”
Melanie Holbeck, the wife of a locked out worker, said, “This lockout has taken a toll on my family. We lost our health insurance on Aug 1—with a month-old baby—we didn’t dare go without insurance. The outrageous COBRA coverage of $1,346 a month was out of the question. My employer picked us up right away. But, others haven’t been so lucky.”
Holbeck also described the emotional toll.
“The emotions I go through on a daily basis are overwhelming,” she said. “I become so angry that the people I have known for years are not stopping this.”
Paul Woinarowicz, who has worked for the company for 34 years, described how hard it’s been for him and his co-workers to ask for help. “My wife, my son, and my son-in-law all work for the company. We’re all locked out. You know, when you get to be my age, you expect that when your kids need something, mom and dad will be there to help. With all of us locked out, it’s been hard.”
He continued: “It’s hard for many of us to ask for the help we need, whether its help paying the rent or the heating bill or getting some groceries or medicine for the kids. But one thing I’ve learned in this struggle is that we’ve got to stick together and we’ve got to help each other and accept help from others. There is no shame in standing up for what you believe in, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s our unity that will sustain us one day longer.”
Amy Phillips, representing the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said, “At a time when the company has enjoyed record profits and management has received record compensation, these 1,300 workers are earning nothing.” According to Phillips, the NDHRC has found that “American Crystal Sugar is violating the human rights of its workers, [based] on the standards set in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States, along with 47 other countries, ratified on December 10, 1948.”
Supporters who attended the event suggested the high cost to the region would be measured in the tens of millions of dollars and in the loss of trust between Crystal Sugar workers and management that has existed for so long.
North Dakota state Rep. Eliot Glassheim said, “This lockout has divided families, friends, neighbors, completely opposite the cooperative spirit that Crystal Sugar used to stand for. And it’s part of a national movement to bust unions. There is no other explanation. We must put an end to this crippling lockout.”
Amy Masciola is a communications consultant with the Minnesota AFL-CIO. This article is reprinted from the national AFL-CIO blog.
For more information
Download a pdf file of the report from the Minnesota AFL-CIO website.