Fires at American Crystal Sugar raise concerns about replacement workers


In the past few days fires broke out at two of the American Crystal Sugar factories staffed by replacement workers, which leaders of 1,300 locked out union members said was the result of poor training and preparation.

The fires occurred at the company’s the East Grand Forks, Minn., and Drayton, N.D., facilities. There were no injuries.

Union leaders have repeatedly warned that the use of replacement workers threatens the workers’ safety and the company’s sugar production.

“When you put poorly trained replacement workers into these facilities, preventable accidents can and will happen. That is exactly what happened last night in Drayton and in East Grand Forks this morning,” said John Riskey, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union, in a statement.

American Crystal Sugar Vice President Brian Ingulsrud told the Associated Press at the start of this week that replacement workers have spent much of the last month in safety trainings. “We feel confident we are going to be able to run the factories with the replacement workers,” Ingulsrud said.

This isn’t the first accident involving replacement workers provided by Minnetonka’s Strom Engineering, a firm that specializes in providing support for company labor actions like lockouts and strikes.

In 2006, a Strom replacement worker was killed in an accident in an Alaska AK Steel factory. OSHA initially cited AK Steel for a serious violation of safety in the accident. During that same lockout, three other replacement workers were injured in an explosion. Former Strom workers also alleged unsafe conditions in a recent Star Tribune article.

Union members were locked out by American Crystal Sugar after they overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal at the end of July.

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.