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Published December 21 2011

What happened to spirit of ’72?

By Merne Manor


American Crystal Sugar’s history ahd the current lockout don’t fit well with each other. In 1972 Valley sugar beet growers as a co-op bought American Crystal from eastern owners because the growers felt they were not getting fair share of the profits. About the same time the government gave beet sugar protections and subsidies. Even though these measures increased the price of sugar to the consumer it was felt that they were justified because they propped up the rural economy.

This last August workers at Crystal Sugar’s processing plants were locked out of their jobs because they voted down a contract that would have resulted in a net loss of $500 per worker each year. Since then, record profits were announced at the annual share growers meeting. Newspaper reports reveal that Crystal’s CEO Dave Berg and other management personnel receive compensation packages that exceed the average for managers in other industries.

Without incomes for over 4½ months workers have had to resort to welfare, take other jobs, dig into their savings or just do without for themselves and their children. Their Christmases will be bleak.

As substitute workers take over their jobs, at least three fires have broken out at Crystal Sugar plants, requiring fire fighters to risk their lives while costing local communities money. Furthermore local officials estimate economic loss to valley communities at $30.5 million and growing.

How then does the lockout fit with what the beet growers did in 1972? How does it accord with protections meant to benefit the rural economy?