Co-op American Crystal May Lock Out 1,300 Employees

The Moorhead-based co-op and the union representing its workers can't agree on a new labor contract-and the company says that it will lock out workers if an agreement isn't reached by Monday.

American Crystal Sugar Company reportedly plans to lock out 1,300 employees at five Red River Valley sugar mills and bring in replacement workers if a new labor agreement isn't reached by Monday.

The Moorhead-based farmers co-op and the union representing its workers are in negotiations about a new contract, according to the Star Tribune; the new contract would replace a seven-year agreement that expires at midnight on Sunday.

Minnesota plants in Moorhead, East Grand Forks, and Crookston would be affected by a lockout, as would mills in Hillsboro and Drayton, North Dakota, the Minneapolis newspaper reported.

Union representatives reportedly claim that American Crystal Sugar's contract proposal would erode seniority rights and allow the company to give union jobs to outside firms on a contract basis. Union officials told the Star Tribune that discussions haven't yet centered on pay, but the two sides also disagree about insurance issues.

The lockout, should the disagreement come to that, would involve bringing in temporary workers to attend to the beet harvest. Since the last contract was reached, beet yields have grown, so the harvest begins in mid-August and goes into full swing in the fall, a company representative told the Star Tribune. Beets must be sliced immediately.

A union representative claims that the union offered to extend the current contract, but American Crystal Sugar declined.

American Crystal Sugar is the largest sugar beet producer in the United States. Its 2010 revenue totaled $1.2 billion.

To read more in the Star Tribune about the labor fight between the company and the union representing its workers, click here.