Locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers tried to deliver a petition with more than 100,000 signatures urging a resumption of talks to end the 17-month lockout of some 1,300 workers to company executives, shareholders and growers at the firm’s shareholder meeting in Fargo, N.D., Thursday morning. But in a similar response to CEO Dave Berg’s refusal to bargain for a fair contract, Berg and other top company officials refused to meet with the workers.
At a press conference before the attempted petition presentation, several of the workers—members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM)—and family members spoke about the lockout’s devastating impact on their families and communities and its impact on the company’s bottom line, its shareholders and the growers who supply the sugar beets.
Gayln Olson, president of BCTGM Local 372G, said:
Our families and communities, but Crystal Sugar itself and many people for whom the cooperative has been a source of pride and profit for many years.
He also pointed out that since the lockout began profits have fallen, beet payments are shrinking, production is down and company debt continues to rise.
The workers had been the backbone of American Crystal Sugar’s profitable operation at plants in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.
Jeff Offutt, a teacher at Horizon Middle School and past president of Education Moorhead (Minn.), said:
Up and down the valley we have kids who don’t understand how their parents can put years into jobs and be locked out, just like that; or how their parents could have so little value to Crystal Sugar.
A former Moorhead (Minn.) city council member, Heidi Durand, a daughter of a locked-out worker, said that the immediate consequences of the lockout are well known, but she is concerned about longer term fallout, for example, situations she has heard of where neighbors who have been friends for years no longer speak to one another because one is a locked-out worker and the other a replacement worker.
Sandra Fish, daughter of a locked-out worker, read a letter she composed to Berg and company shareholders.
No workers or their families should be going through this. I ask you please to give their jobs back.
Last week, the workers again rejected a contract identical to an earlier one that demanded major increases in workers’ health care costs, major changes in job security and the right of the company to outsource work.
Also in October, Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited American Crystal Sugar for numerous “high gravity” and “serious” safety violations, including the accumulation of combustible sugar dust and failure to lock out equipment during maintenance and repair, and proposed nearly $50,000 in fines. A settlement in the case reduced the final penalty to $23,850.
The AFL-CIO has called for a nationwide boycott of American Crystal Sugar products. Learn more about the American Crystal Sugar products boycott. You can also donate to the American Crystal Sugar Lockout Fund.