Sugar workers hopeful for end to 10-month lockout
By Barb Kucera, Workday editor 6 June 2012
|MOORHEAD - Workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar since last Aug. 1 completed a week-long “Caravan for Cooperation and Negotiation” Wednesday, expressing hope that Friday’s negotiations will result in an agreement.
|Some 200 workers rallied in front of Crystal Sugar headquarters in downtown Moorhead after journeying on foot and by car, motorcycle, haywagon and bicycle through the communities of the Red River Valley. See photos. On Friday, the two sides will meet for the first time in months with the help of a federal mediator.
“We’ve got a package that I believe it’s going to difficult for them to turn down if they want to be the No. 1 sugar producer again,” said John Riskey, president of Local 167G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers and lead negotiator for the union.
|The Caravan for Cooperation and Negotiation passed by the American Crystal Sugar factory in Moorhead before making its last stop at the company's headquarters.
Photos by Barb Kucera and Steve Share
Some 1,300 BCTGM members have been locked out of seven Crystal Sugar production plants and other facilities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa for 10 months. The company, which is a farmer-owned cooperative, has been operating with replacement workers.
Workers in Minnesota have been eligible for unemployment benefits, payable because they are locked out by the company, but the workers in North Dakota are not eligible for benefits under that state’s laws. Many are struggling to make ends meet, despite donations from across the country to the union’s lockout hardship fund.
“My June rent is not paid yet,” said Rochelle Harley, a single mother to 3- and 5-year-old girls who is employed at the Hillsboro, N.D., plant. “My car payment was 23 days late and my electricity was shut off yesterday.
“I would like to see the company’s representatives come to the meetings with an open mind instead of their take-it-or-leave-it attitude.”
Crystal Sugar CEO Dave Berg has been quoted in local media as saying the company has already made its final offer, which was rejected by workers.
State Senator Keith Langseth, whose legislative district encompasses much of the Red River Valley, said a settlement is way past due at Crystal Sugar, which is the nation’s largest producer of sugar from beets.
“They could have a huge crop this fall” possibly exceeding the record 25-ton crop of two years ago, Langseth noted in remarks during the rally at company headquarters.
“I can’t see any way that a crop like that can be put through by these substitute workers. It took a lot of you – with 25-30 years’ experience – to put that 25-ton crop through. What we’ve got to do is get this settled. I appeal to the Crystal growers – I appeal to everyone involved – get this settled.”
For more information
See photos of Wednesday’s caravan and rally on the Minneapolis Labor Review Facebook page
Learn more at CrystalGreed.com