Crystal Sugar Workers Ratify Contract, End Lockout

Crystal Sugar Workers Ratify Contract, End Lockout

After rejecting essentially the same offer four times, 55 percent of voting union members on Saturday voted to ratify the contract and end a drawn-out, contentious labor dispute.

After voting down a contract offer from Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar four times and remaining at odds with management throughout a 20-month lockout, the company’s union workers on Saturday voted to ratify management’s contract offer.

The contract was ratified by 55 percent of voting members, although the union didn’t disclose the number of members who participated in the vote. (Twin Cities Business recently reported that fewer union members were able or willing to vote, as some had officially retired or resigned, and others were reportedly not current on their membership dues.)

Throughout the drawn-out labor dispute, management has refused to budge since locking out roughly 1,300 employees, but each time locked-out workers voted on the contract, their opposition diminished. During the first vote, which occurred in 2011, 96 percent of voters struck it down. Last June, it was rejected by 63 percent, and in December, by 55 percent.

Management said in a Saturday statement that, under the terms of its return-to-work agreement, it will make a “good faith effort” to integrate the locked-out workers back into its work force in about six weeks.

“American Crystal is pleased that our employees have accepted the contract and are willing to return to work,” the company said. “The transition period to bring them back to work is expected to be complex and patience will be required by all parties.”

The new contract goes through July 31, 2017. Returning union employees will receive a pay increase of 13 percent over the course of the contract.

“This means Crystal Sugar’s skilled, experienced workers will be transitioning back to the factories to start repairing the damage that’s been done over the past 20-plus months,” John Riskey, spokesman for the union that represents the workers, said in a statement.

Twin Cities Business has closely monitored the contentious American Crystal Sugar labor dispute, which is considered one of the state’s largest and longest. Last year, Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner traveled to the Red River Valley to learn the perspective of each side; to read the resulting feature story, which was published in the February 2012 issue of the magazine, click here.

In his May 2013 Editor’s Note, which went to press prior to Saturday’s vote, Kurschner predicted that American Crystal Sugar’s management might ultimately win the labor dispute but asked: At what cost? He suggests that, as far as labor disputes are concerned, Crystal Sugar’s actions will go down as among the worst lapses in business ethics.

Also in the May 2013 issue of Twin Cities Business is a feature story about Hopkins-based Strom Engineering Corporation, whose temporary workers filled in at American Crystal Sugar after management locked out its union workers. The company began 52 years ago as a contract staffing and consulting company focusing primarily on engineering; helping management with labor vacuums such as Crystal Sugar’s happened by accident. To read more, click here.