Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published February 24 2012
2 Crystal union leaders face chargesGRAND FORKS – Two Bakery Workers union leaders are facing criminal charges from conflict between locked-out American Crystal Sugar Co. workers and temporary workers hired to replace them.
One of the union leaders, Bradley Knapper of Moorhead, is a member of the team negotiating the labor contract with Crystal management. He is accused of scratching a vehicle.
The other, Brad Nelson, is a vice president with the union in Drayton, N.D. He is accused of spitting on a replacement worker.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they have not heard of similar cases during the labor dispute, now into its seventh month.
Since Aug. 1, some 1,300 union workers have been locked out by Crystal. Officials from both sides said there has been no movement toward more negotiations.
Meanwhile attorney Daniel Phillips, Fargo, has filed a civil suit against Job Service North Dakota and Crystal because of the state’s refusal to pay unemployment insurance to locked-out workers. Nelson is one of the plaintiffs.
Minnesota allows workers locked-out by an employer to collect unemployment insurance, but North Dakota has a long-standing policy against it because it’s seen as interfering in a labor dispute, state officials have said.
Phillips said he expects Job Service and Crystal to file answering briefs within two weeks.
Brian Ingulsrud, Crystal’s vice-president for administration and lead spokesman on the lock-out, said the company does not comment on litigation.
But he said the on-going hiring of local residents as longer-term replacement workers continues and is going well. Replacement workers hired from across the nation still are working in Crystal’s five unionized factories, he said.
Nelson, an official with Local 167g, pleaded not guilty last week in Pembina County state district court in Cavalier, N.D, to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
According to a court complaint, the incident happened Dec. 14 at the gate into the Drayton Crystal factory and involved a replacement worker named Roger Cox, who was being driven into the factory.
Nelson yelled at Cox and “began spitting on the white F150 and into the window of the passenger side of the vehicle where Roger Cox was seated,” the complaint said. “The spit made contact with the face of Roger Cox.”
Barbara Whelan, interim state’s attorney for Pembina County, said she expects to try the case later this spring. Cox is from Nebraska, she said.
“Mr. Nelson did not spit on anyone nor was he verbally abusive,” said his attorney Daniel Phillips, Fargo, on Friday.
The maximum penalty for a Class B misdemeanor such as Nelson is facing is 30 days in jail.
Knapper faces a felony charge of property damage, and a similar misdemeanor charge, in Clay County state district court in an alleged altercation of a similar nature.
According to Gregg Jensen, assistant Clay County attorney, Knapper “keyed” the paint on a vehicle driving through the gate at the Crystal factory in Moorhead on Dec. 15.
Because damage was estimated at more than $1,000, Jensen said Friday, he charged a felony, as well as a lesser charge.
Knapper’s attorney, Brian Toay, Fargo, said Friday that his client denies the charges and will have more to say on it later.
Knapper made a first appearance in court Feb. 2 and is scheduled to enter a plea March 5.
Although the maximum sentence in such felonies is a year in jail, typically for a first offender any conviction would result in a sentence of little or no jail time, said Jensen. He has filed a request for restitution.
John Riskey, president of Local 167g, said Knapper is on the union’s negotiating team. While acknowledging the charges aren’t good news for the union, he said these are the only such cases he knows of and they happened months ago.
“And we believe they are innocent until proven guilty and Nelson pleaded not guilty,” Riskey said.
Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald.
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