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Published February 22 2012

Journey cut short: Locked-out Crystal Sugar workers not allowed to deliver petition to CEO Berg

MOORHEAD – Hundreds of locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers and their supporters were turned away at the sugar cooperative's headquarters here on Wednesday while trying to deliver a petition to Crystal management.

The petition, which they said was signed by more than 33,000 people, called on CEO David Berg to end the lockout that began Aug. 1 and resume negotiations on a new labor contract.

Mark Froemke, a union representative and head of the AFL-CIO’s Red River Valley council, told the group over a speakerphone that the petition signatures – part of a rally highlighting the Crystal lockout and a lockout at tire plant in Ohio – had come from unions throughout all 50 states.

“They came from every union that there is,” Froemke said. “So, people, when they saw this, really cared, and it touched their heart.”

Before delivering the petitions, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, told the workers that their actions had support from the community.

“What you are doing is important not only for your families but all of America,” he said.

Mathern then attempted to deliver the petitions to the company’s headquarters, but was turned back by a security guard, who was not letting anyone into the parking lot.

“We would like to deliver (the petitions) in person, and I would like to speak with David Berg,” Mathern told the guard, as workers behind him chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.”

Mathern then tried to call Berg on his cellphone, but was unsuccessful in reaching him.

Mathern and Froemke said they would try to deliver the petitions to Berg some other way.

Earlier in the afternoon, workers rallied at the Courtyard by Marriot to kick off the “From Fargo to Findlay: A Journey for Justice” event, a joint project of the United Steelworkers and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM).

Four locked-out Crystal workers will join four from Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Findlay, Ohio, on a six-day, 1,000-mile road trip to Findlay staged to draw attention to the grievances of locked-out workers.

More than 1,300 Crystal workers are locked out of seven facilities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, and more than 1,000 workers have been locked out of Cooper Tire & Rubber since November.

Speakers at the rally all emphasized the importance of union solidarity during difficult times.

Teresa Brown, a locked-out Cooper worker, told the standing-room-only convention hall that the lockout has brought their union closer together than ever.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in this union or that union, we’re all fighting corporate greed,” she said to a standing ovation. “And it’s time that we all step up and take this country back.”

The bus of workers departed from the Fargo Labor Temple later Wednesday afternoon, heading for a fundraiser for locked-out workers in St. Paul that evening. Stops along the way include Milwaukee, Chicago and a large rally in Findlay.

“Today is the first day of the memories for the United Steelworkers and the BCTGM,” Brown told the crowd. “We’re going to lay memories down from Fargo, North Dakota to Findlay, Ohio.”

Online

The traveling union members can be followed on Twitter at @JourneyJustice or on their blog at http://crystalgreed.com/journeyforjustice/.

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