American Crystal Seeks Workers Amid Lockout

The Moorhead-based sugar producer has reportedly begun advertising for temporary workers and said that its "long-term goal" is to hire 1,300 workers if the lock-out continues.

Having failed to reach an agreement with its locked-out union workers in an ongoing labor dispute, American Crystal Sugar Company began advertising that it is seeking temporary workers for its sugar factories, according to an Associated Press (AP) report.

The new ads reportedly ran Sunday in several newspapers, including the Grand Forks Herald and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The ads spelled out the salary and benefits that prospective workers can expect, according to the AP.

The Moorhead-based farmers co-op has been running its factories with replacement workers since it locked out 1,300 union workers starting August 1. The workers-who were employed at the co-op's sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa-were locked out after their union and American Crystal failed to agree on the terms of a new five-year labor contract offered meant to replace a seven-year agreement between the two parties that expired on August 1. American Crystal made an initial contract offer before the last contract expired, and the union rejected it in late July.

In September, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sided with American Crystal by dismissing four union claims alleging that the company failed to negotiate in good faith prior to the lockout and violated the National Labor Relations Act.

American Crystal and its union resumed negotiations in late October. However, earlier this month, the union overwhelmingly rejected a second contract offer from the company.

In an announcement posted on its Web site last week, American Crystal said that it will begin advertising for temporary employees to help run its factories until a contract agreement is reached with the union.

Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal's vice president for administration, told the AP that the new ads reflect the company's belief that the lockout is going to last longer than it had hoped.

“We felt it was necessary to move into a different phase, a new phase, one that is more efficient for more of a long-term lockout,” Ingulsrud told the AP. “Again, we don't want that, but if that's what is going to happen, we feel it is more efficient to have more local temporary employees. The long-term goal, if this continues, would be for us to hire 1,300 employees.”

Meanwhile, Lester Bergh, a union member from Kindred, told the AP that the ads add to the frustration of locked-out workers. However, he added that he wonders if the ads signal that the replacement workers-who were hired through a Minnesota company-aren't working out.

The lockout is reported to be one of the largest labor stoppages in Minnesota in recent years.

American Crystal Sugar is the largest sugar beet producer in the United States. Its 2010 revenue totaled $1.2 billion. The lockout is reported to be one of the largest labor stoppages in Minnesota in recent years.