We see that you have javascript disabled. Please enable javascript and refresh the page to continue reading local news. If you feel you have received this message in error, please contact the customer support team at 1-833-248-7801.



After 20 months, Crystal employees vote to accept contract

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. workers locked out of their jobs since Aug. 1, 2011, are heading back to work, but it's a bittersweet resolution for the union.

American Crystal Sugar
American Crystal Sugar Co. logo
We are part of The Trust Project.

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. workers locked out of their jobs since Aug. 1, 2011, are heading back to work, but it's a bittersweet resolution for the union.

Fifty-five percent of union members voted to ratify the contract Saturday, their fifth vote during the labor dispute.

"It just means now that American Crystal skilled, experienced workers will be transitioned back to the factory to start repairing the damage that has been caused over the last 20 months," John Riskey, president of Local 167G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, said Saturday night.

Riskey said the damage he referred to was to the communities, locked-out workers, their families and to American Crystal and its shareholders.

"The members have spoken, and they felt it was time to get back there," he said. "The company has been dragged down. The management and shareholders didn't seem to get it, so now the union has stepped up to the plate and put the families and communities first, and especially our children."


Riskey didn't say how many voted, only that it was a good turnout. He thanked those in the area and across the country who supported the locked-out workers.

Based in Moorhead, American Crystal has sugar-beet processing plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston, Drayton, N.D., and Hillsboro, N.D. It also has packaging and transportation sites in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

"We're very pleased that our employees have accepted the contract and will be returning to work," said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president for administration with American Crystal.

Ingulsrud said the "complex process" of getting people back to work now begins.

All employees will notify American Crystal or the union if they will return, but noting that some have moved on, Ingulsrud said there will be "a lot of openings to fill. ... That whole process is going to take a while."

He said the company would "make a good-faith effort to get the locked-out employees back into the workforce within approximately six weeks."

Of the 1,300 union workers locked out, about 650 have officially resigned or retired, while others have moved on without telling the company, said an American Crystal spokesman.

Narrower margins


The lockout started after 96 percent of voting union members rejected a contract that would have increased their pay by 17 percent over five years.

Union leaders said the contract wouldn't be good for worker health coverage and would compromise safety and product quality.

Three months later, 90 percent voted against the offer, which no longer contained a $2,000 signing bonus.

Sixty-three percent rejected the deal in June, and 55 percent were against it in the last vote in December.

The contract accepted Saturday was basically the same one the union previously denied.

According to American Crystal, the hourly pay would increase by a total of 13 percent over the roughly four years of the contract, which would expire July 31, 2017.

Replacement workers are generally receiving the same pay and benefits offered to union workers, the company said.

Before the lockout, the average year-round employee's annual pay and benefits, including overtime, was more than $75,000, Ingulsrud said.

What to read next
Becker Transports of Wadena, Minnesota, started in with a 1985 Mack Superliner bought in 2010. A dozen years later, that ‘85 Mack is still putting in the miles as Becker Transport has grown into a regional trucking company, hauling loads like farm machinery, construction equipment, gravel and grain across the upper Midwest.
The North Dakota Mill and Elevator opened its doors in Grand Forks on Oct. 20, 1922, after several decades of attempts by farmers to halt the hold the grain trade had on pricing and grain grading.
With the increasing need for vets in rural America, Dr. Erin Christ decided to open her own vet clinic in Ellendale, North Dakota.
Originally from Drayton, Anderson graduated from UND with a degree in accounting.