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Dave Olson, Published October 15 2012

American Crystal union makes plea for boycott

FARGO – Taking their contract dispute with American Crystal Sugar Co. to a new level, locked-out workers on Monday demonstrated outside of businesses that sell the company’s products, urging the public to participate in a boycott.

Meanwhile, a company official said American Crystal is focusing on its replacement workers, and the company believes its offer to union workers was a fair one.

About two dozen locked-out workers carried signs and handed out pamphlets on a sidewalk bordering the Village West Hornbacher’s store on 13th Avenue South in Fargo on Monday morning.

A smaller number held a similar demonstration at a Hugo’s supermarket in Grand Forks.

In coming days, workers will demonstrate at other businesses in the Fargo-Moorhead area, according to Becki Jacobson, who worked at the American Crystal plant in Moorhead for 31 years.

She and fellow union workers have now been locked out for a little more than a year.

Standing outside the Hornbacher’s store Monday, Jacobson said she and others have taken new jobs to pay the bills, but she said most want to return to American Crystal.

“There are 1,300 of us families that are locked out. We want our jobs back,” said Jacobson, adding that demonstrators were not singling out Hornbacher’s.

“We have nothing against Hornbacher’s at all,” she said. “We’re not picketing/boycotting Hornbacher’s, just Crystal Sugar.”

Jacobson said the response from people driving by Monday morning was largely supportive.

She said at the start of the day, police officers politely informed the demonstrators of where they needed to be to avoid interfering with the business, and she said there had been no problems as of late Monday morning.

One man leaving the store indicated he was aware of the demonstration and what the dispute was about.

Asked whether he supported the workers’ cause, the man pulled a package of sugar from his shopping bag. The brand was not American Crystal.

Slipping the package back into the shopping bag, the man got into his car, declining to give his name.

Another grocery shopper, Linda Haefs, of Fargo, said she buys sugar about once every five years.

Asked if the boycott would affect which sugar she buys, Haefs said that decision would be based on price alone.

Mike Siemienas, a Hornbacher’s spokesman, said it was business as usual at the company’s stores today, adding that the activity outside of the Village West store had nothing to do with the supermarket.

He said anyone who has questions about the activity should contact either the union involved or American Crystal Sugar.

Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal’s vice president of administration, said the company believes its offer to the union was a fair one.

“As a reminder,” he said, “it (the offer) included a 17 percent increase in pay on top of an average pay and benefits package of over $75,000 per year-round employee.

“At this point,” Ingulsrud added, “we’re focused on our new employees who are doing a great job of producing high-quality sugar for our customers.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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