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Forum staff reports, Published March 13 2013

Crystal Sugar contests worker benefits ruling

FARGO ā€“ Attorneys for American Crystal Sugar Co. are asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling grant-ing locked-out workers unemployment benefits.

A petition for rehearing was filed with the Supreme Court this week by an American Crystal attorney.

Union workers for the Moorhead-based sugar processor have been out of work since being locked out Aug. 1, 2011, over a contract dispute.

Job Service North Dakota, which manages the unemployment program, had ruled that a state law barring collection of benefits in cases of work stoppages applied to lockouts. The Feb. 26 ruling by the Supreme Court overruled that interpretation and could bring up to $4 million in back benefits to union workers for Crystal Sugar.

Fargo attorney Dan Phillips, who represented the locked out workers, said petitions to ask the court to change its mind and rehear the case are unusual.

ā€œIā€™d expect a quick decision from the Supreme Court,ā€ Phillips said.

Meanwhile, state senators on Wednesday added a provision to a Job Service bill that would change state law to explicitly deny unemployment to workers out of a job due to a lockout.

The bill would not affect benefits for the Crystal workers, but would affect future cases.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.