Fewer Crystal Sugar Workers Eligible for 5th Contract Vote

Fewer Crystal Sugar Workers Eligible for 5th Contract Vote

The locked-out workers are meeting to vote on American Crystal Sugar Company’s contract offer, which remains nearly unchanged since 2011, for the fifth time.

The union representing Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Company’s 1,300 locked-out workers plans to vote April 13 on the company’s contract offer once again—but only a fraction of its membership remains able and willing to vote.
 
Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of American Crystal Sugar, told Twin Cities Business that the contract offer has remained ostensibly the same since it was first proposed in August 2011. One slight adjustment came in November 2011, when the company changed language regarding contracting, stating that no union jobs would be lost due to sub-contracting, he said.
 
Although the contract offered to raise wages by 17 percent over five years, it would also result in much higher health care costs for workers by requiring them to join the company health plan instead of the union plan, according to a report by the Associated Press.
 
American Crystal refuses to budge and no changes have been made from the last vote, which it held December 1. What has changed, however, is the percentage of voters turning down the contract. At the last vote, the contract was turned down by 55 percent of voting members, and in June it was rejected by 63 percent. It was originally struck down by 96 percent of the voters in 2011.
 
Approximately 640 union members have officially resigned or retired, according to the company. More than 130 others decided to cross the line and return to work. And an unknown number have moved away or found jobs elsewhere.
 
Those remaining need to stay current with their dues to vote; here, too, numbers are dwindling. In East Grand Forks for example, a union member said that 200 of 300 members were paid up as of June 2012. That number dropped to 62 as of last December 1, and to 28 by this March. Union leadership would not comment on these numbers and has been reaching out to members offering to allow them to vote if they can pay at least half their dues before the vote.
 
While Minnesota workers were deemed eligible for unemployment benefits, those in North Dakota were not. North Dakota Supreme Court recently overturned a ruling, however, deeming them eligible. Crystal Sugar has petitioned that ruling.
 
Meanwhile, two of American Crystal Sugar’s replacement workers at the East Grand Forks plant were hospitalized Saturday for severe burns, marking the second serious on-site injury in two months, according to the Star Tribune
 
Last year, Twin Cities Business Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner traveled to the Red River Valley to learn more about the ongoing and contentious labor dispute. To read the resulting feature story, which was published in the February 2012 issue of the magazine, click here.

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