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Forum staff reports, Published January 31 2012

No deal struck in Crystal Sugar labor talks Monday, company says 'window is closing'

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. – American Crystal Sugar Co. and the union representing locked-out workers are blaming each other for an unproductive negotiating session held Monday.

In a letter released today, a member of the union bargaining committee, Dan Kressin said: “We are disappointed, but no longer surprised, at the company’s refusal to negotiate.

“We made significant proposals that we believe address their issues. They did not bring a single new proposal to the table,” said Kressin, an eight-year employee of American Crystal’s factory in Crookston, Minn.

In a letter posted on its website, the company said union leaders failed to come to Monday's meeting prepared to comprehensively address the company's final offer.

"Over the past several meetings with the federal mediator and leaders from the union, American Crystal representatives have offered multiple ideas for pathways to reach an agreement and get our employees back to work. In every case, the union leadership has rejected them," the company said.

The union letter said members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union met with a federal mediator and representatives of American Crystal Monday in a formal negotiation session.

The letter states that workers came to the session hoping to open a constructive dialogue with the company on how to end the lockout and get union members back to work under a fair contract, but the company was unwilling to consider any of the workers’ proposals.

Workers maintain in the letter that the situation is harming the Crystal Sugar brand and endangering the sugar provisions in the Farm Bill.

“There is clear evidence that replacement workers are not producing the same amount or the same quality product that we have produced in the past,” said Ross Perrin, who has worked at American Crystal’s Moorhead factory for 31 years.

The union letter said locked-out workers have witnessed greater-than-normal amounts of sugar that can't be sold, or re-melt, piled up outside warehouses in Grand Forks and Hillsboro.

With the beet processing campaign about two-thirds complete, the company said it will soon be moving into a phase that will require decision making regarding resources.

"The window for reaching agreement is closing," the company said on its website.

The company said the union's proposals represent a "stubborn refusal to acknowledge the obvious - times have changed dramatically over the past 50 year and our contract needs to address those changes."

About 1,300 union workers have been locked out since Aug. 1.