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Dave Olson, Published December 01 2011

Crystal Sugar annual meeting: Berg says 'having negotiation done quickly still is our goal'

FARGO – American Crystal Sugar President and CEO David Berg talked today about “when” and not if a new contract will be signed with locked-out workers.

Speaking at a news conference during the company’s its annual meeting, Berg said he could not discuss specifics of the negations, but he added: “Having negotiation done quickly still is our goal.”

John Riskey, a local president for the union that represents the locked-out workers, said workers weren’t planning any demonstration at today’s shareholders meeting.

Speaking at a news conference at the same Holiday Inn where the annual meeting is being held, Riskey said workers were there to ask Crystal Sugar why workers were locked out last summer.

“Was it to reduce productivity and farmers’ profits, to starve your neighbors?” Riskey said.

State Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said the lockout needs to end.

Mathern went on to say he was shocked by comments Berg has made to groups in the community regarding a need to reduce wages and benefits to make Crystal Sugar more profitable.

Mathern said wages and benefits must be kept attractive if young people are to remain in the area in-stead of going elsewhere to find jobs.

Berg countered that by citing a Crystal Sugar offer made to the union prior to the lockout that he said would have meant workers would have been better off by about $3,000 a year for the five years of the contract.

On the subject of the company’s health care benefit, Berg said “we just can’t eat that cost forever and ever.”

Security guards were very evident at the shareholder meeting, a detail that surprised Riskey.

“I don’t know what they’re afraid of,” Riskey said. “We are their neighbors. We are their friends.”

Asked about the level of security, Berg said he didn’t view it as important.

“You take precautions, but I don’t see things going to that level,” he said.