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Crystal Sugar Workers Reject Contract for 4th Time

The union representing American Crystal Sugar’s locked-out workers said that 55 percent of voting workers rejected the company’s offer—the same offer that Crystal Sugar has extended three other times.

Crystal Sugar Workers Reject Contract for 4th Time

Workers who have been locked out by American Crystal Sugar Company for the past 16 months on Saturday rejected a contract offer from the company for the fourth time.

Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar—a farmer-owned co-op and the largest U.S. beet sugar producer—locked out 1,300 union workers in August 2011 after they rejected a new labor contract offer.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International union, which represents the locked-out workers, said in a Saturday statement that 55 percent of voting workers rejected management’s contract offer; it has rejected the same offer repeatedly, the union said.

Union spokesman John Riskey said in a statement that Crystal Sugar’s leaders have “no interest in ending a fiscally irresponsible lockout that has been disastrous to farmer shareholders, put the federal sugar program in jeopardy, and hurt countless families in the Red River Valley.”

“It’s time for shareholders to reclaim their company and send management back to the table for real give-and-take negotiations,” Riskey added.

Crystal Sugar, meanwhile, described its offer as a “solid and generous package” that is similar to what the company has offered to its replacement workers. The pay and benefits included in the package are “attracting high-quality area workers who are now creating a productive and successful new work force for our company,” Crystal Sugar added.

Throughout the labor dispute, workers have cited language regarding job security and health care benefits as key sticking points. The company, meanwhile, says the offer would raise worker pay by 17 percent over five years when a $2,000 signing bonus is taken into account, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP).

While the majority of union voters again rejected the company’s contract offer, opposition to the contract has dwindled, according to the AP. Ninety-six percent voted against the offer just before the lockout started; in late June, during the last contract vote, 63 percent voted “no.”

In October, the AFL-CIO, a national organization that encompasses 56 unions that collectively represent more than 12 million workers, announced its support for a boycott of products produced by Crystal Sugar.

Early this year, Twin Cities Business Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner traveled to the Red River Valley to learn more about the ongoing and contentious labor dispute. To read the resulting feature story, which was published in the February issue of the magazine, click here.

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