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Published July 31 2012

Forum editorial: One year later, no one wins

After a year, there has been no significant progress in ending the lockout of union employees at American Crystal Sugar Co. The initial lockout (it was not a strike) and the three-time rejection by the union of a company contract offer have evolved into a stalemate that has been a disaster for workers and a public relations blunder for the company. But for all intents and purposes, it’s over. There is no objective winner.

From Drayton, N.D., to Moorhead, the company’s plants have relied on replacement workers to do jobs done for years by 1,300 locked-out workers. Union representatives insist work by replacements is inferior. Company spokesmen say everything is going just fine with the new workers. Whatever the truth, the labor dispute is becoming a moot matter. Union workers are idle. The company is proceeding unimpeded with yet another sugar beet campaign.

It’s time to end it. Union members did themselves no good by thrice rejecting a contract that included provisions to move a labor agreement into the 21st century. The company has forever lost its luster as a worker-friendly corporate citizen by opting for a seemingly abrupt lockout, rather than negotiations while workers stayed on the job. Both parties must accept responsibility for dividing communities, families and friends – destroying longtime relationships that likely will never be repaired. Seeds of bitterness were sown that will not grow into something sweet.

First, the union should schedule another vote on the company’s offer. If the union is to have any presence in the Crystal workforce, union members will approve the agreement and accept the economic mandate that workers must pay more for certain benefits and be more flexible about seniority and job training. Stubbornness in the face of reality is stupid.

Second, the company should dial down its arrogance and condescension, and invite union leaders for more than a “this-is-our-final-offer” session. If company executives, who for decades had high praise for union workers, are to be believed, they need to demonstrate the lockout and the company’s subsequent strategy were not union busting in disguise.

The longer this thing goes on, the longer families and communities suffer and the more the company’s image suffers. End it.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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