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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published December 12 2011

Dayton’s call for Crystal negotiations unheeded

GRAND FORKS – Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton won’t be convening labor contract talks anytime soon between American Crystal Sugar Co. and its locked-out union employees.

In fact, Dayton has been asked by federal officials not to talk about the labor dispute, according to his press spokeswoman.

On Dec. 5, Dayton issued a letter to both Crystal officials and a Minnesota AFL-CIO official, Mark Froemke, proposing that contract negotiations resume, as early as today, in Moorhead with the governor in or just outside the room.

Dayton proposed the all-day talks, with no interruption except for sleep and food, until an agreement is reached. He said he would ask a federal mediator to participate.

Union officials embraced the idea, releasing a reply the same day, saying they would have new proposals to bring to such talks.

American Crystal officials, however, have been mum.

Brian Ingulsrud, Crystal’s vice president for administration who has been the spokesman on this issue, did not return telephone calls.

Company officials have made no public comment about it in the week since Dayton’s proposal.

A company employee with knowledge of Ingulsrud’s schedule said Monday that no talks are scheduled for today.

Dayton’s spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, confirmed nothing has been set up.

“The governor has been asked by the federal officials to withhold comment for the time being,” Tinucci said in an email Monday. “However, he is ready and willing to go to Moorhead, whenever both sides agree to his presence there.”

John Arnold, spokesman for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, said last week that participation by companies and unions in such mediation is voluntary and requires both parties to agree to meet.

Such talks with a federal mediator from the Twin Cities took place in late August and late October in Fargo.

Members of the local Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers union overwhelmingly voted down Crystal’s contract offer July 31, spurring the company to lock out 1,300 union workers and hire temporary replacements. On Nov. 1, union members similarly rejected an amended contract offered during talks Oct. 24 to 25.

Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald