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Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum Communications Co., Published April 26 2012

American Crystal reaches contract deal with Montana workers

GRAND FORKS - The contract that Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co. signed last week with the Bakery Worker’s union at a subsidiary in Sidney, Mont., is similar to the contract the company offered to locked-out union workers at its Red River Valley factories, a company executive said this week.

But a union leader here said there are key differences.

Brian Ingulsrud, Crystal’s spokesman on contractual matters, said union workers at Sidney Sugars agreed to make their health care benefits the same as management’s. They also agreed to keep language from the old contract that allows management to promote based on merit rather than seniority, he said.

John Riskey, president of the Bakery Worker’s union local that represents Crystal workers at three of the five Crystal factories in the Valley, said Wednesday there are big contrasts between the contract in Sidney and the one that Valley union members rejected in late July.

In Sidney, management’s proposed new contract was about the same as the old contract, Riskey said. But Crystal tried to strip away 46 pages of language protecting union prerogatives from Valley workers, he said.

About 1,300 union workers at the Crystal factories in East Grand Forks, Crookston, Moorhead, Hillsboro, N.D. and Drayton, N.D., have been locked out since Aug. 1 after rejecting the new contract.

The beet-processing campaign will be complete in the first week of May and Ingulsrud said there are no plans for more contract discussions. The company has continued to hire local, temporary replacements for the locked-out workers.

In Sidney, it took only three days of negotiations to reach a three-year contract for 241 union workers, according to Crystal.

Tran writes for the Grand Forks Herald