American Crystal Union Rejects “Final” Contract Offer

Eighty-two percent of the locked-out union workers voted on a third and “final” contract proposal from American Crystal Sugar, and 63 percent of the voters rejected it.

In an ongoing labor dispute with Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Company, locked-out union workers on Saturday rejected a third contract offer—which the company says is its “final” offer.

Eighty-two percent of the 1,300 workers—who are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers Local 167G (BCTGM) union—cast a vote, and 63 percent of the voters were against the contract, according to an Associated Press (AP) report.

American Crystal said in a statement that it is “disappointed” with the union’s decision, but “stands by [its] final offer.”

“It is a solid and generous offer that includes wages increases at a time when many companies have cut employee wages and benefits,” the company said. “The package is similar to what we are offering our new employees, and we’re finding the pay and benefits included in it are attracting high-quality workers from throughout the region who are now creating a productive and successful new workforce for our company.”

The workers involved in the ongoing labor dispute—who were employed at the co-op’s sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa—have been locked out since August 1. BCTGM and American Crystal haven’t been able to agree on the terms of a new five-year labor contract meant to replace a seven-year agreement between the two parties that expired on August 1. The company made its first contract offer before the last one expired, and the union rejected it last July. The company made a second offer in November, and that one was also rejected.

American Crystal’s latest offer included a wage increase of approximately 14 percent over five years—down from the 17 percent increase that was originally offered, according to the AP. The company also reportedly offered increased pension, leave, and vacation benefits compared to the expired contract.

After the last negotiating session between union representatives and American Crystal, which took place June 8, the company said that the union “continued to demand wage and pension increases significantly above those contained in American Crystal’s final offer.”

The union has reportedly said that its objections also revolve around health care benefits, drug testing, seniority, and qualifications for promotions.

American Crystal said that it will continue to run its plants with replacement workers.

Union spokesman John Riskey told the AP that the union is willing to continue talks, though none have been scheduled.

“The union’s negotiating team is ready to meet with the company at any time and any place to get this settled,” Riskey reportedly said.

To learn more about the history of the American Crystal Sugar lockout, read the cover story from the February issue of Twin Cities Business here.