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By Chris Bieri, Forum Communications, Published August 08 2012

Crystal workers ask CEO to meeting

GRAND FORKS – The head union negotiator representing locked out American Crystal Sugar workers has invited the CEO of that company to talk to union members about Crystal’s contract offer later this month in East Grand Forks.

In a letter emailed Wednesday to Crystal CEO Dave Berg, union negotiator Steven Bertelli said the proposed Aug. 18 meeting would be “an opportunity for you to describe management’s contract offer directly to workers, explain why you think they should vote to accept it and answer any questions they may have.”

About 1,300 workers of the Bakery Workers Union have been locked out since Aug. 1, 2011.

Bertelli, the regional vice president based in Loami, Ill., wrote the meeting would not be a negotiating session, but an “informative, constructive discussion that could contribute to productive negotiations.”

The union has voted against management contract offers three separate times, most recently on June 23 with 63 percent of members rejecting the proposal. Eighty-two percent of the members participated in that vote.

“We want to open the lines of communication and begin the process of cooperation and communication,” said John Riskey, president of Local 167G. “It’s time to get the skilled workers back there and making profits like we did when we were there before.”

The letter also said the meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. at the East Grand Forks American Legion, would be open to union members’ spouses, shareholders, growers, and supervisors as well as the media.

Crystal has processing plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead as well as well as Drayton and Hillsboro, N.D. It also has packaging and transportation sites in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

According to Bertelli, former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Sarah Vogel agreed to moderate the meeting “to assure … it proceeds in a civil and respectful manner” and federal mediator Jeanne Frank from Minneapolis was invited.

Bertelli said other company officials may join Berg, and if he is not able to attend, he could send a representative in his place.

Chris Bieri reports for the Grand Forks Herald