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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published June 14 2012

Crystal workers to vote on contract June 23

GRAND FORKS – Locked-out Bakery Workers union members decided Thursday to vote again on American Crystal Sugar Co.’s offer of a new five-year contract.

“We will vote Saturday, June 23,” said John Riskey, who was re-elected this week to a third three-year term as president of the union’s Local 167G representing locked-out workers at the Drayton, N.D., and Moorhead and East Grand Forks, Minn., factories.

The decision was finalized late Thursday afternoon, after the last of factory district meetings was held in Crookston, Minn., he said.

Union members rejected the contract offer overwhelmingly July 31 and Nov. 1, union officials said.

Since Aug. 1, about 1,300 workers have been locked out at five factories in the Red River Valley and two smaller facilities in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

The fourth round of talks between both sides ended last Friday with no agreement, union officials said, blaming company officials for not being willing to negotiate.

Company officials maintain it’s a fair offer and say more than 7,000 people have applied in recent months for about 900 replacement jobs, indicating the company is paying well.

It’s likely the total vote June 23 will be markedly reduced from previous ones.

“Some have retired,” Riskey said. Others have left the union and taken replacement positions at the factories and others have left the area for new jobs, including in North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

One union member, who asked not to be identified in print, said some locked-out workers want to go back on the job, whether that means approving a new contract and ending the lock-out, or dropping out of the union and taking a temporary replacement position.

Federal law prohibits the company from permanently replacing the workers it locked out Aug. 1, but such lock-outs can continue indefinitely, company officials say.

Each factory district will have a single polling site, voting will begin after a 9 a.m. information meeting and the polls will close at 4 p.m. June 23, Riskey said. It would take a simple majority to approve the contract, he said.

Crystal’s “final offer” includes wage increases, requiring workers to start paying for a portion of health insurance premiums as managers and non-union workers already do and reducing the role of seniority.

Union leaders consistently have said the new contract takes away too much job security for workers and wage increases would be offset by health insurance costs.

Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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