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Wendy Reuer, Published June 22 2012

Union workers to vote for third time on final American Crystal offer today

FARGO – Up and down the Red River Valley today, polling sites will be open for locked-out union workers to cast their vote on whether to accept the last contract offer from American Crystal Sugar.

John Riskey, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, Local 176 Union, said the decision day will open at 9 a.m. with informational meetings.

The meetings will be closed to the public.

The polls, located at union halls and command centers in Fargo, Grand Forks and Crookston, Minn., will then remain open until 4 p.m.

At that time, all ballots will be brought to the union headquarters in Grand Forks to be counted.

“So, I’m hoping to have it ready by 6:30 p.m.,” Riskey said.

The union workers are voting on a similar contract that they have twice rejected. The first vote against the deal resulted in a now nearly 11-month lockout that began Aug. 1, 2011. The second came Nov. 1.

The contract was rejected by 96 percent of union voters the first time and by 90 percent in November.

American Crystal spokesman Brian Ingulsrud said the lockout was a business decision based upon the start of the beet processing season. The company also says the contract is a good one.

“We felt that we couldn’t allow the union to be in a position to strike at any time once we started the processing campaign,” Ingulsrud said.

At the start of the lockout, 1,300 Crystal Sugar Union employees were barred from returning to work.

The Moorhead-based cooperative first employed temporary workers, but as the sugar beet harvest nears, replacement workers have been hired.

Riskey said it is unlikely all of the original 1,300 workers will vote today.

“There are some members that have retired,” he said.

Others have returned to work as non-union employees. Workers in Minnesota received news recently that unemployment benefits scheduled to run out Sunday will likely be extended for another 14 weeks. But unlike Minnesota and Iowa, there’s no unemployment insurance in North Dakota.

“I’m very proud of the way people have hung in there,” said John Riskey, president of one of the labor unions that represents the workers. “We’re still moving ahead and giving it the best we can.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

The Associated Press contributed to this report