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Union leader sends letter to Crystal president

The international president of the union that represents the 1,300 locked out American Crystal Sugar Co. employees wrote a sternly-worded letter to American Crystal's president last week, imploring him to end the lockout and resume negotiations w...

The international president of the union that represents the 1,300 locked out American Crystal Sugar Co. employees wrote a sternly-worded letter to American Crystal's president last week, imploring him to end the lockout and resume negotiations with the union.

In a letter dated Aug. 18 and addressed to American Crystal president and CEO Dave Berg, Frank Hurt, the international president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, asked Berg to "immediately end the company's strike against your workers and meet with their union representatives to negotiate, in good faith, a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement."

The lockout has stretched into its third week with no talks scheduled between management and the union, according to a company official. Union representatives have said they would like to resume negotiations with the company and a mediator, but the company's upper management has so far declined to re-open negotiations with the union.

"I have rarely seen a company act as boldly and unfairly against its workers as American Crystal Sugar," Hurt wrote in the letter. "Our members have devoted their professional careers to the success of your company and for that loyalty they have had their lives harshly thrown in to turmoil, uncertainty and hardship."

Hurt also wrote that the lockout has "severely undermined" the relationship between labor and management at the company and threatens union support for legislation and policy initiatives sought by the company. In an interview with the Herald, Hurt said that includes support for the sugar program tariffs, which the union has provided in the past, but may be reluctant to do in the future.


Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal's vice president for administration, said the company had no response to Hurt's letter. Ingulsrud said the letter won't change the company's course in its dealings with the union.

"There really isn't anything new to report," Ingulsrud said.

Local union members who represent about 1,300 union workers at American Crystal's five sugar processing plants and two other sites in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa voted down the company's last contract proposal July 30. The union contract expired July 31. The company locked out union workers and some non-union workers in union-represented positions Aug. 1 and has brought in replacement workers to run the plants.

American Crystal has sugar processing plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead in Minnesota and Drayton and Hillsboro in North Dakota.

Ingulsrud reiterated the company's stance this week, saying that American Crystal remains confident in the replacement workers it has contracted through Minnetonka, Minn.-based Strom Engineering. He said the company believes the replacement workers can handle the harvest campaign.

"We're focused right now on making sure we are ready to process beets when the harvest starts," Ingulsrud said.

When asked how long the company plans to continue using replacement workers, Ingulsrud said "we don't know." He said the company's contract with Strom is "open ended."

The letter from the international union president also was sent to AFL-CIO union officials, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota's Congressional delegation and Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Minnesota Reps. Collin Peterson, Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz.


As of late Tuesday afternoon, more than 3,800 online signatures also had been gathered on a union Web site to be delivered to Berg, asking that he reconsider the lockout and allow union-represented workers to return to their jobs.

Schuster reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107, or email rschuster@gfherald.com . Follow Schuster on Twitter at @RyanSchuster.

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