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Published September 05 2012

Locked-out workers seek to put pressure on Crystal board members

CROOKSTON, Minn. – As the American Crystal Sugar lockout drags into its 13th month, union members are taking the fight to the doorstep of the company’s directors.

Locked-out workers demonstrated in front of the homes of Crystal directors Wednesday for the second day in a row, in a bid to drive home the lockout’s human toll.

“We can’t let board members live in ivory towers when it’s under their control,” said Todd Anderson, an AFL-CIO leader who is helping coordinate the demonstrations. “In the morning and in the evening, they should have to look a locked-out worker in the face.”

Workers are gathering in groups of two to six in multiple locations to begin and end the work day, Anderson said. He said the demonstrations are not meant to overwhelm neighborhoods with protests or picket lines.

“It’s more of a vigil,” he said.

He said the demonstrations will continue indefinitely. Workers were outside five homes on Tuesday in Crookston, Ada and East Grand Forks in Minnesota and Drayton and Minto in North Dakota.

On Wednesday, Donald Andringa of Crookston was among the board members who drew demonstrators.

He said his interactions with the union workers have been friendly.

“I go visit with them,” he said. “Some of them are friends of mine.”

Andringa declined to comment on the conversations he’s had with the workers.

Throughout the lockout, Crystal executives have said they have the board’s full backing in taking a hard line in negotiations.

The union, meanwhile, has held out hope of finding a sympathetic ear among directors, many of whom know locked-out workers personally.

The human appeals come in tandem with a renewed push by the union to highlight the economic toll the lockout has taken on payments to growers.

Crystal’s estimated payment to shareholders last year dropped from nearly $70 per ton to $59 per ton. Sugar beet payments from the Minn-Dak Farmer’s cooperative, by contrast, climbed sharply to $74 per ton.

The company says it is happy with the performance of its replacement workers and has no plans to alter its final offer, which the union last rejected in June.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502