After six months locked out by American Crystal Sugar, union workers in the Red River Valley are only growing stronger in their resolve to insist on a fair contract.
The company locked out 1,300 workers August 1, 2011 when they voted down a contract proposal by a 90 percent margin. The workers — members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers union –this week have been organizing “back to work” actions outside factory gates in Hillsboro and Drayton, North Dakota and East Grand Forks and Moorhead, Minnesota.
“We look forward to when we can go back to work,” said Lee Schlichtmann, Hillsboro, a process technician with one year at the company. “Sometimes you need to fight for what’s right.”
“If they continue to offer us what they’re offering us right now, I see all the union people holding out,” said Paul Woinarowicz, Drayton, a maintenance planner with 32 years at the company. “We lose this and other companies are going to use this for precedent. We’re not going to lose this.”
Brad Nelson, Drayton, vice president of BCTGM Local 167G, said he told a company executive: “will you quit sending letters to the employees–you’re doing nothing but aggravating them.”
A group of about 15 locked out workers talking with a reporter in a BCTGM member’s garage in Drayton said they believed the company’s offer would now lose a vote by more than 95 percent.
The company reported record profits in the year before the contract was up for renewal, they noted. “We should have gotten a bonus instead of a lock-out,” said Lynn Frederickson, Drayton, a crane operator with 40 years at the company.
Workers said the company offer includes 40 pages of concessions.
“It’s about power. It’s about them having the power for all decisions,” Nelson said. “They don’t want a union contract in their way.”
The company planned for a lock-out, workers said, even before they voted on the contract. Two weeks before August 1, workers said, the company told them to take their personal tools home.
“It hit home after 40 years of seeing your husband going to work and seeing the toolbox come home,” said Mavis Keena, Drayton. “To have somebody go and turn their back on you is very emotional.”
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