Lockout of workers could damage support in Congress

The union won't back cooperative during dispute.

American Crystal Sugar's six-month lockout of its 1,300 union workers may have an impact on its lobbying efforts for U.S. sugar supports.

The company locked out workers at its five Red River Valley beet processing plants on Aug. 1 after they resoundingly rejected a contract offer.

The union representing Crystal's workers -- and workers themselves -- have long lobbied for the sugar protections alongside company executives and beet farmers. But that won't be happening until the lockout is resolved, said John Riskey, head of Local 167G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union.

Traditionally, the broader union movement through the AFL-CIO also has supported the sugar program, but that's unlikely to continue, Riskey said. Union support is particularly helpful in lobbying Democrats in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, also has voiced concern the lockout will damage support for the sugar program.

"I am a fervent supporter of the U.S. sugar program," Franken said in a statement to the Star Tribune. "But I fear that if this lockout goes on too much longer there will be irreparable harm done to the [Red River] Valley's sense of community, and ultimately to the consensus on sugar in Congress."

Crystal's last contract offer to union workers would have raised medical costs and weakened some important contract language, but also would have raised wages 13 percent over five years.

The sugar plants have continued operating with temporary replacement workers. Sporadic meetings between union and company officials have accomplished little to resolve the impasse.

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