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Dave Olson, Published May 28 2013

Smaller union force back on job at American Crystal

MOORHEAD – In August 2011, about 1,300 American Crystal Sugar Co. workers were locked out of their jobs after the union rejected a company contract offer. Tuesday, some of them went back to work.

A little more than a month after the union ratified a new contract, about 400 union workers returned to their jobs, said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president for administration with American Crystal.

“We’re glad to have our employees back,” Ingulsrud said, adding that the returning union workers were evenly spread throughout the company’s factories.

American Crystal has processing plants in Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston, Minn.; and in Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D.

Ingulsrud did not provide a precise number of union workers who returned, but said it was about one-third of the 1,300 locked out.

Before the union vote in April that gave approval to a new contract, the company said about 650 union employees had resigned or retired.

In four previous votes, the union rejected what essentially was the same contract.

Efforts to reach officials with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.

For his part, Ingulsrud kept his remarks brief Tuesday.

“There’s not a whole lot to say about it; it’s a pretty normal day,” Inguslrud said. “They (union employees) are back to work and ready to get sugar to our customers.”

The lockout started after 96 percent of voting union members rejected a contract that would have increased their pay by 17 percent over five years. Union leaders said the contract would dismantle worker health coverage and compromise safety and product quality.

When union members voted in April, 55 percent said OK to a contract similar to the original proposal.

Because about two-thirds of union employees who were locked out have not returned to work, many of the replacement workers who filled those spots now will have permanent jobs, Inguslrud said.

Under state labor laws, American Crystal employees working the company’s Minnesota plants are required to pay union dues.

The same is not true for workers at the company’s North Dakota plants.

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