AFL-CIO Prez. Promises Support for Crystal Sugar Workers

The leader of the AFL-CIO pledged support for the local union that represents workers who were locked out by American Crystal Sugar, saying that the organizations are “escalating their campaign for fairness and justice at the company.”

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, on Wednesday pledged support on behalf of his national organization for the 1,300 workers who were locked out by American Crystal Sugar Company more than 11 months ago.

The AFL-CIO, a national organization that encompasses 56 unions representing more than 12 million workers, said in a press release that it is joining forces with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), the local union representing the locked-out workers. The unions are “escalating their campaign for fairness and justice at the company,” the AFL-CIO said.

The AFL-CIO’s press release didn’t specify how exactly the organization would support the workers, and a Thursday morning call to the organization was not immediately returned. But several media reports indicated that Trumka pledged $25,000 to the local union.

Trumka said at a news conference in St. Paul that the AFL-CIO wasn’t ruling out any possible actions in its effort to support the local union, including a boycott, according to a report by the Star Tribune.

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

The workers have now rejected the company’s contract offers three times, most recently in June.

“Generations of families have worked here to make American Crystal Sugar a profitable and productive producer of sugar,” Trumka said in a statement. “This abysmal display shows total disregard for those employees and the community who have made Crystal Sugar a well-renowned brand and a leader in sugar production in this country.”

American Crystal Vice President Brian Ingulsrud told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that the AFL-CIO’s announcement will not cause the company to change its position.

“We are focused on the outstanding employees we currently have in place to process the large crop our shareholders will start delivering to us in a few weeks,” Ingulsrud told MPR.

Earlier this year, Twin Cities Business Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner traveled to the Red River Valley to learn more about the ongoing labor dispute, which involves conflicts over health insurance and seniority issues. To read the resulting feature story, which was published in the February issue of the magazine, click here.