Crystal Sugar workers to take new vote

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2012 - 9:08 PM

With American Crystal Sugar Co.'s lockout of 1,300 union employees in its 11th month and negotiation attempts going nowhere, workers will take another vote next week on the same contract they soundly rejected last year.

The union scheduled the June 23 vote after enough locked-out workers called for it. "We're involved in a democratic process, and if people want to vote, let them vote," John Riskey, president of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 167G, said Thursday.

"There's been some talk for a while about it," Riskey said of having another vote. The vote was called after mass meetings this week with union workers at all five of Crystal Sugar's Red River Valley mills.

Those meetings were aimed at gauging worker sentiment after failed contract talks last week between the union and management. Union leadership is not making a recommendation -- either pro or con -- on the new vote, Riskey said.

American Crystal Sugar locked out its union workers on Aug. 1 after they resoundingly rejected a contract that would have raised wages 13 percent over five years, but would have also significantly increased health care costs and altered key contract language to workers' detriment.

Three months later, workers soundly rejected a similar contract offer, though one that didn't include a $2,000 signing bonus that was in the first offer. Under federal law on lockouts, that last offer must remain on the table.

Crystal's beet processing plants -- including three in Minnesota -- have continued operating with temporary replacement workers. Federal law prohibits the hiring of permanent replacements during a lockout.

The lockout has taken an economic toll, but particularly on workers. They are losing $1,000 to $2,300 per month, the union says, with North Dakota workers hit hardest. Unlike Minnesota employees, they're not eligible for unemployment insurance.

Moorhead-based Crystal Sugar has taken a hit to its bottom line from lockout-related costs, though the cooperative's farmer-owners have still been the beneficiaries of healthy profits.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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