Locked-Out American Crystal Workers Plan 1,000-Mile Tour

Together with Ohio workers who were locked out by Cooper Tire in November, some locked-out American Crystal employees are hitting the road as part of a 1,000-mile "Journey for Justice" tour that will last six days and include six states.

It's been more than six months since 1,300 American Crystal Sugar Company workers were locked-out by the Moorhead-based agricultural cooperative after the two parties couldn't agree on a new labor contract.

Now, some of those workers are embarking on a 1,000-mile “Journey for Justice” to advocate for workers' rights. Joining them are some of the 1,000 workers who were locked out of Cooper Tire's Findlay, Ohio plant on November 28.

According to the Journey for Justice website, the tour will span six days and include six states. It will begin February 22 in Moorhead and end February 28 in Findlay. Stops along the way will include the Twin Cities; Madison, Wisconsin; Chicago; and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Kicking off the tour is a “community rally to end all lockouts,” according to the website. Various other rallies, fundraisers, and events will take place en route to Ohio.

The Journey for Justice website said that the American Crystal lockout could create a ripple effect felt throughout the American sugar industry and noted that other sugar companies are watching how the dispute plays out.

But sugar companies aren't the only ones paying attention, Journey for Justice said. “Several other profit-minded corporations in North America are stealing a page out of Crystal Sugar's playbook, locking out their union workers rather than negotiating new contracts in good faith,” the website said.

Twin Cities Business Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner recently traveled to the Red River Valley to learn more about the contentious labor dispute, which involves conflicts over health insurance and seniority issues.

American Crystal said earlier this month that it is two-thirds of the way finished processing last year's beet crop, and “the window for reaching an agreement is closing.”

At the time, the company's Vice President of Administration Brian Ingulsrud told Minnesota Public Radio that if union employees aren't back on the job when the company turns its attention to summer repairs, “we need to put in place contracts with outside contractors to make sure that work gets done. And we'll be committed to those contracts.”

Company executives and members of the union that represents the locked-out workers have met on a number of occasions and even involved a federal mediator, but those meetings haven't resulted in an agreement between the two sides.