Crystal Sugar Lockout Ends With Contract Ratification

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-The 20-month-long lockout at American Crystal Sugar ended April 14 with workers ratifying the contract offer previously proposed by management. Fifty-five percent of the workers taking part in the vote ratified the contract, according to their union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM).

The April 13 balloting was the fifth vote on the contract offer. The beet sugar cooperative’s management locked the 1,300 workers out of their jobs on Aug. 1, 2011. In the four previous votes, a majority of workers rejected the pact.

Key issues were management demands, of its very veteran workforce, for drastic increases in workers’ share of health care costs, and other givebacks.

American Crystal Sugar workers in Minnesota plants could rely on jobless bene-fits. But outside of union strike funds, money was chancy for workers in other states.

The lockout drew national attention for its length, for management bitterness – at one point Crystal Sugar’s CEO called unionized workers “a cancer” – and its impact on the co-op’s production and finances.

“This means Crystal Sugar’s skilled, experienced workers will be transitioning back to the factories to start repairing the damage that’s been done over the past 20- plus months,” said John Riskey, president of BCTGM Local 167G. “BCTGM members thank all who have supported our stand for justice and dignity and who have helped our families survive these hard times.”

The lockout also has a potential impact on the price of sugar and sweeteners, used in numerous foods.

Pro-worker lawmakers warned Crystal Sugar’s management that its lockout jeopardized congressional support for sugar sections of the farm bill. The sections subsidize domestic sugar production and erect barriers against cheaper sugar from Latin America. Sugar workers, including Crystal Sugar workers, traditionally joined with management in lobbying for those sugar sections. Management ignored the warnings about the legislative danger.

Crystal Sugar has processing plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston, and Moor-head, Minn., Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D., and packaging and transportation sites in Chaska, Minn. and Mason City, Iowa. Five BCTGM locals represent the workers.