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Published December 05 2011

Forum editorial: Governors could push talks along

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s offer to host contract talks between locked-out workers and American Crystal Sugar Co. management should be welcomed by both sides. The recent history of the talks suggests that an honest broker can help close the gap between the union and the company.

But since Democrat Dayton is fairly seen as more of a sympathizer with union workers than managers, maybe including the governor of North Dakota as a co-host to facilitate talks would be a good idea. Minnesota is a union-friendly state; North Dakota is not.

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a traditional, business-friendly, public official and owner/operator of farms in the Red River Valley, is seen as more sympathetic to managers than union workers. The balance the governors could bring to the stalled contract talks might be just enough to stimulate a compromise.

Dalrymple might not go for it because he likely believes government should stay out of a private-sector labor dispute. That would be in keeping with his political and business philosophy. But government at several levels has been involved with American Crystal and its workers for decades. For instance, the sugar program is federally mandated. The disparity between unemployment benefits in North Dakota and Minnesota is a function of government that likely will be taken up when the 2013 North Dakota Legislature meets. Also, everything from property tax disputes to environmental and safety regulations to trucking restrictions comprise extensive government involvement.

The difference in labor and management philosophies as represented by the two governors could be a positive factor in a sincere effort to cobble together a contract compromise. The governors would not be forcing a contract settlement but rather acting in good faith as facilitators. Their presence or the presence of their representatives could focus negotiators on the task at hand.

The four-month lockout (both a public relations blunder and a cause of long-term bitterness and community divisions) has lasted too long. If Dayton and Dalrymple can help end it – can help get 1,300 local workers back to their jobs – it’s worth a shot.

Has anyone asked Dalrymple to get involved?

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.