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Dave Olson, Published December 05 2011

Dayton gets serious with American Crystal talks

MOORHEAD – Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has put into writing his proposal to restart contract talks in the American Crystal Sugar labor dispute.

“The purpose of this letter is to ask you to reaffirm your verbal agreement, made to me last Saturday, to resume your contract negotiations at the earliest practical date and to continue them without interruption until an agreement is reached,” Dayton wrote in a letter sent to union leader Mark Froemke and to David Berg, president and CEO of American Crystal.

Dayton suggested Dec. 13 as the start date for renewed negotiations, which he envisions occurring every day and night, starting at 9 a.m. and going until midnight, until an agreement is reached.

“I will take the presence of you or your representative(s) at the first meeting as your official and irrevocable agreement that neither party will leave the negotiations, except for food and sleep, until they are concluded with a contract acceptable to both parties,” Dayton wrote.

Froemke said Monday that the union is ready to take Dayton up on his plan.

“The union told the governor we’d be willing to meet at his earliest possible convenience,” Froemke said, adding workers want to reach an agreement that works for them, the growers and the company as soon as possible.

A spokesman for Crystal Sugar declined Monday to comment on the governor’s letter.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, in response to Dayton’s plan and whether he would join in such a proposal, said Monday that a professional mediator, approved by both sides, would likely provide the best chances for resolving the dispute.

About 1,300 union workers were locked out of American Crystal’s five production plants on Aug. 1, after workers voted down a proposed five-year contract.

During a visit to Moorhead Saturday, Dayton offered to initiate renewed talks and to remain in the room or nearby for as long as it took to reach an agreement.

In Monday’s letter to union and company officials, Dayton wrote if he had to leave, a representative would serve in his place, a promise he repeated in his letter.

“While I may not be able to be present for every minute of the discussions … my representative will be present.

“If both parties are agreeable, I will ask the federal mediator to participate as well,” Dayton wrote.

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