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Crystal Sugar Workers Launch 200-Mile Journey for a Contract

Andrew Bushaw/North Dakota AFL-CIO

Workers like Becki Jacobson (left), who have been locked out of their jobs at American Crystal Sugar Co. for 10 months, yesterday launched a 200-mile journey from Drayton, N.D., to Moorhead, Minn. They are calling on the company—a farmers’ cooperative—to engage in genuine negotiations when the two sides meet in Moorhead on June 8. They seek to draw attention to the ongoing lockout and its impact on their communities. They will camp out each night and invite the public to join them for potluck suppers, live entertainment and fellowship. They hope to discuss their struggles of the past 10 months and how they believe they can resolve this struggle through cooperation and real negotiation.

A federal mediator asked representatives of the company and the workers’ union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), to return to the negotiating table. While the company has agreed to meet, spokesman Brian Ingulsrud told the Grand Forks Herald that the company does not intend to bargain with the workers, saying, “our final offer is our final offer.”

Union members have voted overwhelmingly to reject that offer twice and have made a series of concessions on issues the company identified as significant, including the cost of health insurance. However, the company refuses to budge from its final offer and has threatened to replace the union workers with long-term temporary workers.

“We are calling on the owners of this company—those shareholders who belong to the [American Crystal] cooperative—to return to the founding principles of cooperation,” said Roger DeLage, president of BCTGM Local 267G in Crookston, Minn.

They have the power to tell management to cooperate with the workers who made this company a success.

Workers traveled by foot and on a tractor-drawn hay wagon from Drayton to Grafton, N.D., yesterday. Today they are traveling from Grafton to Oslo, Minn. Along the way, they will pass by the farm of John Gudajtes, a member of the American Crystal Board of Directors.

"We are calling on Crystal Sugar management to engage in real negotiations when we meet them on June 8,” said Gayln Olson, a locked-out worker and president of BCTGM Local 372G.

The women and men of the caravan are undertaking this journey to affirm that union members want to cooperate with American Crystal shareholders and executives to end the lockout and negotiate a contract that’s fair for workers, the company, farmers and customers.

Workers point to the profound impact the lockout has had on their families and their communities up and down the Red River Valley for 10 long months. According to Jack Teigen, who is accompanying the caravan on horseback, “the uncertainty of this lockout has been really hard for workers. I’ve had a lots of sleepless nights.” Teigen has worked at the East Grand Forks factory for 34 years. Although he and his co-workers in the East Grand Forks, Minn., factory have received unemployment insurance (unlike their co-workers who work in the North Dakota factories), that could run out soon.

I want to get back to work. But we are not giving up this fight. We’re not just fighting for our own jobs; we’re fighting for good jobs for working Americans. 

Gary Granzotto, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, spoke to the marchers before they took off yesterday. He called on the company to end the lockout and the resulting devastation. 

Your lockout strategy has divided families and neighbors.There used to be a cooperative partnership among farmers, workers and management. Now there is distrust, frustration and anger. There can be no dollar assessment placed on these losses.

Dave Wasylow has worked at the East Grand Forks factory for 35 years as a mechanic. He is also accompanying the caravan on horseback. 

We’re out here on the road this week to gather support from our community and to let folks know that we’re not giving up. We’re still here. We are one union, and we’re not going away.

Other stops on the caravan include:  

June 1: Grafton, N.D., to Oslo, Minn. Camping at City Park/Oslo; live entertainment; potluck supper at 6 p.m.

June 2: Oslo, Minn., to East Grand Forks, Minn. Camping at SRA Campground; live entertainment; potluck supper at 6 p.m.

June 3: East Grand Forks, Minn., to Crookston, Minn. Camping at Central Park, potluck supper at 6 p.m.

June 4: Crookston, Minn., to Belmont Park, N.D. Camping at Belmont Park near Climax; live entertainment; potluck supper at 7:30 p.m.

June 5: Belmont Park, N.D., to Hillsboro, N.D. Camping at City Park (east of town); live entertainment; potluck supper at 7:30 p.m.

June 6: Hillsboro, N.D., to Moorhead, Minn. Arriving at Davies Memorial Park in Moorhead at 4 p.m. March to ACS Corporate
headquarters for prayer vigil.

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