Teamsters cease delivering at American Crystal Sugar; editors call for return to table

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On Monday, Bluestem posted about management’s intransigence in Locked-out workers picket American Crystal Sugar; company hauls in scabs.Union members overwhelmingly rejected the co-op’s offer over health care and contract language would make it easier for the company to replace union workers with non-union workers.

The situation is devolving for the co-op in Northwestern Minnesota. WDAZ reports that Teamsters Join in American Crystal Contract Dispute. Local editors say Hopefully, that wasn’t Crystal’s final offer in the Crookston Times and No winner in lockout at Crystal Sugar Co. in the Fargo Forum.

The Grand Forks Herald reprints a Star Tribune commentary: In context of protective tariffs, American Crystal’s lockout raises eyebrows.

And yet management isn’t budging, the  Herald reports in  No talks scheduled as American Crystal plans to keep using replacement workers.

Let’s unpack those headlines. In Teamsters Join in American Crystal Contract Dispute, the public learns:

One of the nation’s biggest unions is showing its support for American Crystal Sugar Union workers.

The Teamsters Union issued a statement Monday saying they will not be making deliveries to plants for the duration of the lockout.

There’s a possibility that it could have a major affect on American Crystal Sugar plants due in part that some of their biggest deliveries are made by Teamsters drivers.

The local union requested the support of Teamsters during the lockout. . . .

Crookston Times editor Mike Christopherson writes in Hopefully, that wasn’t Crystal’s final offer:

. . . it’s not all about the money. Crystal wants to significantly change the health plan for its union employees, and the union is saying that the salary increase and “bonus” won’t necessarily put more money in their pocket; in fact, they say, it might not even cancel out the increased costs they’ll pay for health coverage.

Then there’s the whole out-sourcing jobs issue, or, in other words, hiring outside contractors. The union thinks the language in the contract offer relating to this area puts just about every union worker at risk of being replaced somewhere down the line but non-union personnel.

Scary stuff, even with a decent pay increase. The devil is in the details, and the union at this point wholeheartedly rejects them. Here’s hoping management at Crystal, a farmer-owned cooperative currently on one heck of a successful run, gives a little more ground and puts forth a retooled offer that warrants serious consideration by the union. The company and its impact on our region’s economy are too significant to let this situation fester too long.

The Fargo editorial board says in No winner in lockout at Crystal Sugar Co.:

The best thing for the economy of the Red River Valley would be for American Crystal Sugar Co. and its union workers to return to the bargaining table. The worker lockout that began Monday morning hurts workers and their families, and suggests the company does not believe its own rhetoric about the value of its workers. . . .

. . .First, the company’s decision to lock out employees when the union had no intention of striking seems unnecessarily harsh. It’s a recipe for lingering bitterness. If possible, the company should end the lockout as a condition of resuming negotiations. If company managers really believe “our workers are our best assets,” let them work while talks proceed.

Second, the union has to join the real world. That is, the days of a nearly free ride for certain benefits are over. Paying more for company-provided health insurance is a concession the union should make.

Finally, both sides need to gather around the table again to re-examine contract language regarding union job security. The company’s interpretation is different from the union’s conclusion. Job security is important to the union, as it is for everyone who holds a good job. For the company’s part, it should welcome clarity of language that removes uncertainty from workers who have demonstrated their loyalty for decades.

That’s what negotiating is supposed to be about. It won’t happen until both sides start talking again.

The Strib’s business columnist Eric Wieffering comments in In context of protective tariffs, American Crystal’s lockout raises eyebrows:

But the just-expired contract, with the seniority provisions that are now so objectionable, lasted seven years and covered a period of low prices. Judging by the bonuses and incentive payments made to top executives, it didn’t seem to hurt the company’s business. Between 2008 and the end of 2010, CEO David Berg’s total compensation more than doubled, to almost $2 million. The average compensation increase for the top four executives totaled 75 percent over two years.

Over the years, American Crystal and other sugar producers have used employees as props in their campaigns to help kill measures that would have ended or loosened the quotas that locked in industry profits.

But once the workers rejected the contract, Ingulsrud said the company had to lock them out right away to protect the company from a strike with the harvest only three or four weeks away. “We didn’t want to risk waiting until they had maximum leverage,” he said. . .

And about those “replacement workers,” (r as simple country bloggers like to call them, scabs):

There appears to be no end in sight to the labor impasse between American Crystal Sugar Co. and 1,300 union workers at its facilities in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

No talks have been scheduled between the two sides and an official with the nation’s largest sugar beet processor said the Moorhead-based company doesn’t have any current plans to resume negotiations. . . .

The co-op isn’t looking good in the lockout. Between the teamsters and the court of public opinion, how long until management decides to come back to the table?

Want to help bring both sides together to hammer out a more reasonable contract?

Via Workday Minnesota, the Minnesota AFL-CIO has launched an online petition to support sugar processing workers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa who have been locked out. Read more.

Sign the petition.

Do what Tild tells you to do!