Union Members Optimistic - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Crystal Union Talks Stumble

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It's now up to the union to make a move. Union workers have seven days left to vote on the offer both sides brought to the table. 

the talks are off but the company and the union continue to butt heads. Both sides are blaming each other for the impasse.

"I don't think they want us back at work to be totally honest with you," says Peter McDougall, a union worker.

Disappointment was felt from the picket lines just moments after union representatives left the negotiating table without a compromise. McDougall says it may be time to give up the fight.

"If they want it, let them run it. I don't care anymore," he says.

Separate written statements from American Crystal and the union point a finger at each side for the failed talks. The union says they offered 20 different proposals, while American Crystal claims in part, the offers "failed to adequately address the issues identified by both parties as being the keys to reaching an agreement."

The union says Crystal execs brought an offer with two minimal changes; adding that "company executives seem committed to continuing a lockout that is tearing the community apart."

"There isn't much there. They haven't changed anything," says Union President, John Riskey. "There's just a little bit on insurance. Just the time frame."

American Crystal says they are offering changes in language that doesn't threaten employees jobs to subcontracting. They're also willing to delay health care changes for a year. It's now up to the locked out union workers, who after three long months off the job, have a lot to think about.

We tried to contact Crystal Sugar executives today, they simply referred us to their written statement.


Statement from union leaders:

"As always, we came ready to negotiate an agreement to put an end to the American Crystal Sugar Lockout that began on August 1st.

Our offer contained substantial compromise on 20 different provisions that would mean significant cost savings for the company.

Unfortunately, American Crystal Sugar brought an offer with two minimal changes.  Company executives seem committed to continuing a lockout that is tearing the community apart, putting hardship on 1,300 families, and costing a farmer-owned cooperative an unsustainable amount of money.

However, we are union and democratic. We owe our members an opportunity to vote on whether to accept or reject this contract. We will be informing our members shortly on when that vote will take place."


Statement from American Crystal Sugar:

American Crystal Sugar came into this week's negotiation session with high expectations of reaching a major breakthrough in the lockout that is approaching its fourth month. Despite public comments by the union regarding significant movement, their offer failed to adequately address the issues identified by both parties as being the keys to reaching an agreement. Their new offer had no change in position whatsoever regarding the issue of subcontracting and job security. In the area of health care they offered very minor changes but continue their demands for free health care insurance.

Based on the failure of union leadership to adequately address these issues, it appears that they have no sense of urgency in getting our employees back to work.

American Crystal Sugar continued to bargain in good faith, making a substantial move by addressing the two issues union leaders have repeatedly identified as their most significant concerns. The Company offered to revise the subcontracting language to guarantee that no employee or position will be eliminated due to subcontracting. The Company also offered to delay by a year implementation of the transition to the management health care plan.

This amended offer provides our employees an opportunity to get back to work under a fair agreement. The details of this amended offer can found on acsccontracttalks.com.


Locked out American Crystal workers appear much more upbeat on the prospects of getting a contract at midday of the 2nd day of negotiating. Valley News Live's Neil Carlson spoke to several workers at the East Grand Forks plant:

East Grand Forks worker JaySorum told Carlson he is, "Hopefully optimistic."

Carlson: "You'd like to be working this winter?"

Sorum: "I would like to be back to work. I think it's a good sign they actually went a whole day and now a second day compared to last time."

Carlson: "Do you have some light at the end of the tunnel?"

Alvy Cihca, locked out worker said, "I hope so. We're all waiting to get back to work and get word from the guys."

Carlson: "Are you willing to give a little on the contract language?"

Cicha: "Somewhat, yes. We'll give in somewhat, but not too much."

 Others, tempered their comments with very cautious optimism.

Carlson: "Is there light at the end of the tunnel?"

Shirley Hovde: "Um… I hope so… with everything that's gone on I don't know. I'm still really gun shy on the whole thing."


Negotiators are on their second day of negotiations.  They met into the evening Monday.


American Crystal officials and locked out union employees aren't saying yet, whether any progress was made during negotiations Monday.

The two sides began meeting at a Fargo hotel at seven in the morning.

1,300 union employees have been locked out of work since August 1st after rejecting a contract offer from Crystal.

Union employees say they're not ready to give up job security due to changes in their contract language by Crystal.

Neil Peterson, Locked Out Employee: "If they just take that language out of there and put it back to the language that is was…"

Reporter: "You're talking about the job security language… you can't be replaced with contract workers?"

Peterson: "Right. If they would change that language back to the way it was that would prove to us that they're just not out to get rid of the union."


For the first time in two months, American Crystal and its union are resuming contract negotiations Monday. On August 1st, nearly 1300 union members were locked out from their jobs after a contract dispute.

Union representatives say they have made concessions in their contract proposal and hope the company will come to the table in good faith. 

After almost three months of being locked out Leslie Dunham and others on the picket line say they are holding strong.

Dunham says, "Sometimes its been cold, wet, or windy. But we're standing here for what we believe in.

They've been outside the plant everyday, but those days could be numbered. Negotiations between the union and American Crystal are set to resume for the first time in two months.

Union member John Schreiner says, "It's drug out a lot longer that we thought it was going to be and we all want to get back to work and we're hoping we can."

The last time American Crystal and its union met, the people on the picket line had a positive attitude. This time, the mood has changed.

"Well, I just think they'll say the same thing they said before," says Dunham.

Steve Bertelli is a lead negotiator for the union and says he knows why moral is low. He says, "I think that's because of letters that have been coming out form the company that their not very optimistic that they're going to change their position."

In that letter from Vice President Brian Ingulsrud, he admits stakes for this meeting are high and says American Crystal's goal is to get everyone back to work, but makes no comment of their own concessions.

Bertelli says, "We're prepared to negotiate, which means we're prepared to make movement if movement is justified."

But until change happens, the union says they won't change what they're doing.

Schreiner says, "We're pretty committed to last until it gets resolved, however long that takes."

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