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Forum Communications, Published June 08 2012

Crystal says parties still ‘far apart’ after talks fail again this morning

Forum Communications

MOORHEAD – A mediation session Friday involving American Crystal Sugar Co. executives and union workers ended without a deal to end a lockout more than 10 months old.

It was the first negotiation between management and the union since February. No other meetings are scheduled, and “the parties remain far apart,” American Crystal said in a statement released on its website.

John Riskey, president of one of the local unions that represents Crystal workers, issued a statement at 12:45 p.m. Friday, saying that management representatives refused to move off long-standing positions.

“While not surprised, employees of American Crystal Sugar are disappointed with the outcome of today’s mediation session,” Riskey said. “We came prepared for genuine negotiations and with positive proposals to help bring an end to this stalemate.”

He said union negotiators offered proposals to address health care, drug testing, the role of seniority and qualifications in promotions, but managers “made clear that they are not willing to compromise on any issue and intend to prolong the lockout until every single one of their terms is met without amendment or qualification.”

The statement posted to Crystal’s website later in the day said the union’s proposals “continued to ignore many of American Crystal’s proposals and the realities of the workplace today.”

Crystal said the union continued to “demand wage and pension increases significantly above” those in the company’s “final offer.”

The sugar beet processing cooperative has repeatedly said it will not change its contract offer. In advance of Friday’s meeting, union officials had said they were bringing some concessions to the session – the fourth with a federal mediator.

The company also said in its statement that it is moving ahead in hiring new employees and other preparations for the 2012 crop campaign.

Riskey said union leaders would report results of Friday’s meeting to members, who will determine the union’s next course of action.

About 1,300 workers were locked out Aug. 1, when the union rejected the company’s offer.

American Crystal Sugar has processing plants in Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston, Minn.; Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D.; and packaging and transportation sites in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.