Operating Engineers accuse Sauk Rapids aggregate producer of union busting


The National Labor Relations Board is investigating charges that MDU Knife River, a construction materials and mining company with facilities in Sauk Rapids, illegally discriminated against union members.

The charge of unfair labor practices, filed Tuesday by Operating Engineers Local 49, paints a grim picture of union busting at Knife River’s central Minnesota division, where workers voted nine months ago in favor of affiliating with Local 49.

Rather than bargaining in good faith with the union’s negotiating committee, the company, according to Local 49, has instead retaliated against pro-union workers, reducing their paid hours, changing the terms and conditions of their employment and threatening to deny them benefits.

As a result, the workers remain without a first contract. But their union is stepping up efforts to hold Knife River and its parent company, Montana Dakota Utilities Resources Group, accountable.

Local 49 planned an informational picket in Sauk Rapids this week, and it unveiled a Web site, www.stabbedintheback.net, that will chronicle Knife River workers’ struggle for a first contract.

On the new Web site, Local 49 claims Knife River unilaterally created “production quotas” that have limited the hours available to union members, and Greg Waffensmith, an area business representative for Local 49, pointed to Knife River’s new “points system” for reinstating laid-off workers as a blatant example of anti-union discrimination.

Knife River introduced the new system four months ago, after Local 49’s successful organizing drive. But somehow, Waffensmith said, the points always add up to leaving union workers with seniority off the payroll.

Waffensmith said Knife River recently refused to reinstate a laid-off worker who had seniority on the callback list because his brother is on the union’s negotiating team.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Local 49 Business Manager Glen Johnson said, adding that Local 49’s contract negotiations in Sauk Rapids have serious implications for employees of MDU Resources Group, which does business in eight Central Minnesota counties and is one of the top 10 aggregate producers in the country.

MDU’s operations include natural gas and oil production, natural gas pipelines and energy services, construction materials and mining, construction services and electric and natural gas utilities.

“We need Knife River to get serious about negotiating before even more hard working men and women in Minnesota – and across the country – are subjected to the same discriminatory working environments,” Johnson said.

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Visit the federation’s website, www.stpaulunions.org