Union approves contract with American Crystal Sugar

MOORHEAD, Minn. (Valley News Live) American Crystal Sugar Company and it's workers have reached a contract agreement.

The union announced approval of the deal in an news release late Thursday night.

The company made a final offer on May 11th and it included a bonus payment of $2,250 per worker if the deal was approved by May 22nd.

Local sugar union leaders believe that bonus may have persuaded many members to vote for the offer.

A contract dispute in 2011 lead to a 22 month lockout of employees.

American Crystal is headquartered in Moorhead and has locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

FULL UNION STATEMENT:

Today employees of American Crystal Sugar (ACS) working at locations in Drayton and Hillsboro North Dakota, East Grand Forks, Crookston, Moorhead and Chaska, Minnesota and Mason City Iowa accepted the company’s final offer of May 11, 2017.

John Riskey, BCTGM Local 167G President, thinks that many members may have been partially persuaded by ACS’s incentive of a $2250 bonus payment if the Union voted the contract offer and it was ratified by May 22nd.

During the seven sessions that led to ACS’s final offer to the Sugar Locals the company was adamant that it would give the Union a final offer by May 11th. ACS made it clear to the Union’s bargaining committee that it knew what employees would accept regardless of the minimal amount of proposals put forth by the Union in an effort to come to a fair contract that would help attract and retain competent employees. The Union’s proposals were effectively unaddressed by the company during the eight bargaining sessions.

“ACS refused to effectively address issues raised by employees who work for them. Instead, ACS continued their “take it or leave” strategy used in the 2011 negotiations that led to a 22 month lockout of employees,” said Riskey. Since employees returned to work after the 22 month lockout in 2013, the Union estimates that over 1200 employees have cycled through the doors of ACS factories in the Red River Valley.

According to Riskey, ACS is trying to take advantage of the residual feelings of the farmer/owners and ASC employees from the 22 month lockout. Riskey estimates that ACS wasted one-half to 1.3 billion dollars on the lockout that could have been settled amicably by continued negotiations. This estimate was presented to ACS across the bargaining table, to which, ACS never refuted. The lockout had a high human cost as it pitted farmer/owners against employees of ACS who are the end processors of the beets grown by farmers. A lockout that pitted relatives against each other thus ripping the Red River Valley apart: father versus son, sister versus brother and so on. ACS seized upon these yet unresolved emotions last year when it sent employees an unsolicited proposal, professing in doing so, that it was trying to avoid a labor dispute when the Union had not mentioned anything about a labor dispute. Riskey thinks that ACS is trying to control its employees by instilling fear. “Fear may provide short term control” says Riskey, “but it does not engender the desired behavior for the long term.”

Riskey thinks that this temporary fear pushed employees into seeing the carrot of a $2250 time sensitive bonus as enough incentive to get employees to vote yes.

The Union tried during the eight bargaining sessions to get ACS to understand that true “give and take” and negotiating to a settlement is the best way to promote a positive labor/management relationship and to accomplish the desired behavior from its employees for the long term. Riskey believes that as this current workforce evolves ACS’s “take or leave” strategy will not work and will ensure that future negotiations continue to be difficult.