NYT: American Crystal Part of Growing Lockout Trend

The New York Times reported that union lockouts, like the one imposed by Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar, are now more common among American companies.

More American companies are reportedly turning to lockouts to press their unionized workers to accept contract offers, according to a report by The New York Times.

While highly publicized lockouts are common in professional sports, they reportedly were a rarity in other industries until recently. They have now grown to represent a record percentage of the nation's work stoppages, The New York Times reported. Last year, at least 17 employers imposed lockouts on their unions when the workers refused their contract offers.

Among those employers is Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar, which locked out its 1,300 workers in August after their union and the company failed to agree on the terms of a new five-year labor contract. Since then, the two sides have held occasional negotiations but have failed to reach an agreement. American Crystal has been running its sugar-processing plants with replacement workers, while the union workers have gone without a paycheck.

Robert Batterman, a labor lawyer who represents employers, told The New York Times that employers have little choice as they look “in these tight economic times to get givebacks.”

“Employers,” he added, “are using lockouts because unions are reluctant to do what the employers consider reasonable in terms of compromising. Employers are looking to reset their collective bargaining relations.”

Paul Woinarowicz, one of American Crystal's locked-out workers, disagreed.

“It's just another way of trying to break the union,” Woinarowicz told the newspaper. “People here in the Red River Valley are really mad at American Crystal. It was just like a knife stuck in your heart.”

Woinarowicz added that the lockout was also taking a toll on the company and pointed out that its most recent quarterly profits suffered a sharp decline. American Crystal's first-quarter net proceeds, reported earlier this month, fell about 28 percent to $186.7 million, and it expects net proceeds for the full fiscal year to be about 30 percent lower than last year.

American Crystal Vice President Brian Ingulsrud told the Star Tribune earlier this month that the decline was largely due to weather issues that hurt this year's crop and delayed the start of the sugar beet processing season. However, Ingulsrud acknowledged that the lockout has had a financial impact on the company but declined to disclose details.

To read the full story in The New York Times, click here.