Year-old American Crystal lockout frustrates workersPublished 7:07am Friday, July 27, 2012 Updated 12:08pm Friday, July 27, 2012
A year after American Crystal Sugar locked out 1,300 union workers over a contract dispute, there is still no resolution, a stalemate that has put the union members in a tough spot.
These days, workers rarely picket at the company’s five Red River Valley factories in Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston, Minn., and Drayton and Hillsboro, N.D.
Most are busy with new jobs. Meanwhile, American Crystal Sugar is nearly finished hiring long-term replacement workers.
Still, Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers union leaders say they are confident the lockout will end soon. They hope for a settlement, arguing that American Crystal Sugar needs experienced workers back in the factories.
Increased operating costs because of the lockout cut into sugar beet growers’ profits for last year’s crop. But at $59 per ton, payments to growers for the 2011 crop were still the second highest on record, trailing only the $73 per ton paid last year for the 2010 crop.
John Riskey, president of the local union, believes economic pressure will force a settlement before the October harvest. The big question, he said, is whether farmers want to again take a loss.
“I know that the farmers just do not want to go down that path again,” he said. “There is no reason why this can’t come to a settlement. And Crystal Sugar has to come to the table with an agreement and negotiate and settle this.”
Sugar beet growers who own American Crystal Sugar have steadfastly refused public comment on the lockout.
By Dan Gunderson
MPR News — 91.5 FM