American Crystal Sugar, union deadlocked at meeting urged by federal mediator

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The first meeting between the union and American Crystal Sugar since the Aug. 1 lockout of 1,300 workers appears to have made little progress, according to accounts from both sides.

John Riskey, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union said the company refused to budge from earlier positions.

“We came to the table in good faith with proposals that addressed many of the company’s concerns including changes to health coverage and expanding upon the company’s substance abuse policy,” Riskey said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the company ignored our ideas and stubbornly offered the same proposal that 96% of our membership rejected.”

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 health care costs and threatened union jobs.

American Crystal Sugar did not immediately respond to the Minnesota Independent’s request for comment, but the company posted a separate account of the meeting on a website it created to document the contract dispute Thursday.

According to the company, the union offered to talk about health care benefits cuts desired by the company only if American Crystal Sugar dropped language it has been demanding in the contract since its final offer in late July.

“[American Crystal Sugar] responded by expressing disappointment with the lack of any real proposal from the union,” according to the company’s statement. “[T]he refusal to respond to the Company’s important proposals was not good faith bargaining.”

Thursday’s meeting, which was requested by a federal mediator, was the first time the company has agreed to meet with union members since it locked them out when their contract expired at the start of August. Riskey said the company has refused to schedule another meeting.

“BCTGM remains committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to workers, the company, farmers, and the Red River Valley community,” Riskey said. “We continue to call on American Crystal Sugar executives to end this lockout, let us get back to work, and continue negotiations.”

A representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who is a big booster of the sugar industry in Congress, told the Minnesota Independent that the congressman was optimistic about the meeting.

“While Mr. Peterson has not been part of any meetings on either side of the issue, he has been talking to labor, growers and management, and encouraging both sides to get back to the table and work out their issues.”

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