When Susan dePasquale, a former AFSCME member in Cleveland, heard that 1,300 workers at American Crystal Sugar had been locked out from their jobs for more than a year, she immediately volunteered her support.
I was just very moved by what I heard…I wanted to do something. Instead of sending well wishes, I thought I’d write a check.
Since August 2011, the workers, employed at five sugar beet processing plants across Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, have held pickets and rallies and traveled throughout the country to get out their message and build support. In a 1,000-mile Journey for Justice from Fargo, N.D., to Findlay, Ohio, they highlighted the corporate greed behind the lockouts and the growing drive by CEOs to drive down wages and benefits to pad their own pockets.
When the company locked out the workers who opposed American Crystal’s final contract offer, which included significant increases to workers’ health care costs and major changes to job security, the company was hugely profitable. American Crystal made $1.5 billion in fiscal 2011 net earnings, up from $1.2 billion in 2010. In 2011, CEO Dave Berg took in nearly $2.5 million in total compensation.
Yet 30-year employees like Jay and Bonnie Holter will retire on a combined $900 pension. And workers like Michael Frank, a single father with three children, are left struggling to support their families.
Locked-out American Crystal workers take strength from the support of individuals like dePasquale and many unions across the nation that have donated money and turned out to support them.
DePasquale wrote a note to the workers in which she told them that what they are doing is important not only for themselves, but for all families. She even went a step further: for her birthday, she encouraged friends and family to contribute to the fund set up to help workers, rather than send her a gift.
In thinking about the workers’ struggles to stay strong in the face of financial and personal hardship, dePasquale cites a quotation from author and novelist Anne Lamott:
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up.
Help locked-out American Crystal workers. Please donate to the BCTGM Lockout Action Fund, care of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, 175 Aurora Ave., St. Paul, MN 55103.