American Crystal Locks Out 1,300 Workers

Ninety-six percent of union workers reportedly voted Saturday to reject the company's labor contract offer; replacement workers started Monday morning, and no new negotiations have been set.

Farmer-owned co-op American Crystal Sugar Company-the largest U.S. beet sugar producer-locked out 1,300 union workers Monday morning after they rejected a new labor contract offer.

The lockout is one of the largest labor stoppages in Minnesota in recent years, according to the Star Tribune. The last labor stoppage at American Crystal was a strike in 1981.

Turnout was reportedly high for Saturday's contract vote, and 96 percent of American Crystal workers voted against the deal. The old contract expired at midnight on Sunday.

Consequently, three big white Ford vans full of replacement workers were brought to the Moorhead plant Monday morning to keep production going, the Minneapolis newspaper said. The same thing reportedly occurred at plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston, and Hillsboro and Drayton, North Dakota.

Money wasn't the issue for union workers. The new five-year contract offer would have given them a 4 percent raise in the first year, 3 percent in the second year, and 2 percent in each of the next three years, according to the Star Tribune. Workers-who on average earn $40,000 a year at the plant, $50,000 with overtime-also would get a $2,000 signing bonus.

But the workers don't like that the contract offer would bring them into the company health plan for non-union employees; they claim that such a move would more than double out-of-pocket health care costs. The workers also oppose contract language regarding seniority and contracting out union jobs to non-union employees.

A spokesman of Moorhead-based American Crystal told the Star Tribune that the health plan it's offering union workers is the same plan that management has and covers more worker health expenses than the typical corporate plan. And the company added a clause to the version of its contract offer that it deemed “final,” indicating that it couldn't subcontract work done by union employees that would result in layoffs.

No new negotiations have been set, but an American Crystal spokesman told the Star Tribune that the company “would be open to talking again.”

To read more about the lockout in the Star Tribune, and to see comments from people on both sides, click here.

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