Locked-out American Crystal workers face choice
- Associated Press
- June 17, 2012 - 5:20 PM
MOORHEAD, Minn. - Some locked-out workers at American Crystal Sugar Co. are willing to take an imperfect deal, while others say they'd rather walk away than concede defeat with nothing to show after 10 months of hardship.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported (http://bit.ly/MHoLHb) Sunday that there few easy answers for the 1,300 locked-out union workers, who vote Saturday on a contract they rejected overwhelmingly twice — most recently last November. The newspaper said many are torn between the dishonor of surrendering and the creeping sense that time and economics are not on their side.
Union leaders say the proposed contract would take away too much job security, and that the 14 percent pay increase over five years would be offset by higher health insurance costs.
The Moorhead-based beet sugar processor, the country's largest, did not respond the newspaper's request for comment.
Managers have insisted for months that their last offer was final. They have also said more than 7,000 people have applied for about 900 replacement jobs under the same terms the union rejected, a sign the offer is fair. The company has been using replacement workers at all of the plants.
The decision to hold the vote came after representatives of both sides met June 8 for a fourth time with a federal mediator but were unable to end the impasse.
The terms haven't changed since the union workers at plants in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa voted it down by 90 percent. Some union workers say prospects for a better offer have dimmed.
"I don't know that we have that much leverage anymore," said Terry Johnson, a chemist at the Moorhead plant who's been there 19 years and said he's inclined to vote "yes" because he doesn't see how the contract is going to improve.
Rick Krull, a 32-year employee, said he'll vote "no." Like a number of other locked-out workers, he's taking classes at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead to develop new skills in case he can't return. But he acknowledged that "everybody's got their tipping point" because of lost wages and other challenges.
Kari Sorenson, a 15-year employee of the Moorhead plant, said she doesn't want their sacrifices to have been in vain. She said she'd rather move on than give in.
"I'll find another job if I have to," she said.
That sort of entrenchment isn't uncommon in prolonged lockouts, said Greg Cant, dean of Concordia College's Offutt School of Business. As the fight drags on and parties dig in, it becomes harder for either side to accept what feels like defeat.
"It's hard to get your head around, `We really lost this,' " he said. "That's a hard pill to swallow."
Cant said the long-term outlook doesn't appear to favor the union.
"The company has all the bargaining chips at the moment," he said. "The longer replacement workers are there, the better they get."
Legally, the lockout has no expiration date, and some lockouts go on for years. But if neither side will budge, Cant said, the fight is effectively finished.
"Years from now, if this hasn't been resolved, you might drive by and see a few workers out there holding signs," he said. "People might say, `Wasn't this over years ago?' Not for them. It's never over."
Information from: The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com
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