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Dave Olson, Published December 03 2011

Dayton proposes hosting new American Crystal Sugar talks

MOORHEAD – Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday offered his time and the cache of his office to help American Crystal Sugar Co. and its approximately 1,300 locked-out workers reach a new contract deal.

If both sides return to the bargaining table and agree to remain there until a deal is struck, “I will come to start it and stay as long as it needs to get it done,” Dayton told hundreds of union workers gathered at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Dayton made the same offer to American Crystal Sugar representatives earlier in the day, and while he did not get an immediate answer from the company, Dayton said he hopes negotiations resume this coming week, or the next.

John Riskey, a local union official, said representatives for the locked-out workers “are more than willing to sit down at the table and stay there until it’s finished.

“We appreciate his offer, and we’re going to do what we can to take him up on it as soon as possible,” Riskey said of Dayton’s offer.

Attempts to reach company officials for comment Saturday were not successful.

On Thursday, American Crystal Sugar President and CEO David Berg said during the company’s annual meeting: “We are ready to negotiate this afternoon.”

‘Terrifying’

At Saturday’s event at MSUM, Dayton heard from a number of workers who described the difficulties they and their families face because of the lockout, which is now in its fourth month.

“It is pretty terrifying. It makes me sick to feel I am losing everything I have worked for,” said Laura Saastad, a mother of three boys who began working for American Crystal in the Hillsboro, N.D., area in 2007.

Nathan Rham of Hillsboro said locked-out workers are having a hard time finding interim jobs because employers worry the new hires will return to American Crystal Sugar.

“Houses are going up for sale and people are leaving our communities,” Rham said.

Saturday’s event was attended by a number of area lawmakers, including Minnesota State Sen. Keith Langseth, D-Glyndon.

“This just feels so needless,” Langseth said of the lockout, adding that the labor dispute appears to mirror what is happening at companies across the country.

“Money is being shoved to the top, and when it comes to the middle-income people, we have to be competitive,” Langseth said.

Amy Phillips, a representative of the North Dakota Human Rights Commission, told those gathered Saturday that the lockout violates the human rights of workers and she said the coalition “stands in solidarity” with the union workers.

Sticking to it

At a hallway news conference conducted as he left MSUM, Dayton said both sides have told him they are willing to negotiate.

But, he added, “It’s going to be imperative that both sides agree to stay and work through their differences until they come to an agreement.

“I’ll get it started and I’ll be part of it,” Dayton said. “I can’t say I’ll be sitting in the room every minute, but if I’m not there, I’ll have my representative there and I will return as necessary and be part of it until it’s resolved.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555