American Crystal Sugar to talk with locked-out workers

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For the first time since 1,300 workers at American Crystal Sugar were locked out on Aug. 1, the company and union representatives will meet Thursday.

The resumption of talks were requested on Aug. 25 by Jeanne Frank of the U.S. Mediation and Conciliation Service, according to documents posted online. She’s asked both parties to refrain from commenting, but the meeting represents a first step towards compromise after three weeks of inaction and deadlock.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union has repeatedly asked the company to restart negotiations. The union’s international president sent a letter to American Crystal Sugar president Dave Berg last week asking the company 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.”

Immediately after the lockout began, Crystal’s vice president for administration told the Fargo Forum that there were no plans to negotiate any further. A representative from the company told the Jamestown Sun early this week that there “really isn’t anything new to report.”

The company has brought in replacement workers from Minnetonka-based Strom Engineering in hopes of operating during sugar beet harvesting season.

Elected representatives have expressed concern about the lockout, but so far declined to take sides. Rep. Collin Peterson hasn’t returned repeated requests for comment from the Minnesota Independent, but he told the Grand Forks Herald that he has urged both union and company representatives to settle their differences. Both Peterson and Sen. Al Franken said they didn’t contact the federal mediators.

Union members were locked out by American Crystal Sugar after they overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal at the end of July that they said increased healthcare costs and would have allowed the company to replace union workers with contractors.

The lockout affects 1,300 union workers at facilities in Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Crookston, and Chaska, Minn.; Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D.; and Mason City, Iowa.