Amendment Could stop Locked-Out Workers from getting Benefits - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Amendment Could stop Locked-Out Workers from getting Unemployment Benefits

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UPDATE 3/12/13

North Dakota union workers locked out of American Crystal Sugar may still not get unemployment benefits.  An amendment was slipped into a job service bill during a senate industry, business and labor committee hearing Monday.

The bill had not been on the agenda to be discussed and language was added to make a person ineligible for unemployment benefits if they are unemployed due to a strike or lockout.

Last month, the state supreme court ruled in a split decision that locked-out workers were entitled to benefits.

Updated 9:15 PM 2/26/13

Hundreds of American Crystal Union members are breathing a little easier today after the North Dakota Supreme Court deciding that they are eligible for unemployment benefits. The decision came 19 months after the union was locked out after not accepting what American Crystal called their "final contract agreement".

There are over 400 union members who worked in the North Dakota factories, and over the last year and a half, they've drained their bank accounts, had to cut back and some have even lost their houses because of the lack of income. This North Dakota Supreme Court ruling will help a lot of people who have been struggling.

North Dakota state law says workers involved in a labor dispute are ineligible for unemployment benefits, but the court has decided that since American Crystal did not allow these workers to go back to their jobs, they are eligible. This ruling totals about 4 million dollars in benefits.

Union President John Riskey and member Becki Jacobson say this has revived the union's passion to get their jobs back.

Riskey says, "Justice has been served for the hard working men and women in North Dakota that are locked out by Crystal Sugar.""

"My brothers and sisters of North Dakota, they really deserve this, it's been a long 19 months. I'm just so happy for them. They needed this so bad," says Jacobson.

North Dakota union members getting unemployment is just a small victory, because the lockout does go on. But Union President John Riskey says they will not back down, and as long American Crystal refuses to negotiate the contract, the lockout will continue.

This ruling affects those who work in North Dakota, the company operates plants in Drayton and Hillsboro. Workers in Minnesota were able to collect unemployment.

Even though union members are not picketing outside of the plants, they are continuing rallies. Their next one is on Friday in Minneapolis and is aimed at boycotting American Crystal products.


North Dakota Supreme Court says locked out North Dakota American Crystal Sugar workers are eligible for unemployment benefits. Locked out workers could receive up to $4 Million.

The court's ruling says because American Crystal prevented the workers from reporting to their jobs, they aren't barred from collecting unemployment. Job Service North Dakota says about 400 North Dakota workers are affected by the case.

A district judge had ruled the Crystal employees weren't eligible for jobless benefits. More than 230 of the workers appealed the decision to the North Dakota Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court ruled they were eligible for benefits.

Portland Sen. Phil Murphy has pushed legislation that explicitly says locked-out workers are eligible for jobless benefits. He says the Supreme Court's ruling is a "just result."

North Dakota law bars workers from getting unemployment if they're not working because of a labor dispute.  However, the Supreme Court's ruling says the law applies if workers go out on strike. The American Crystal workers wanted to work, but were locked out of their jobs.

The lockout began in August 2011 after American Crystal workers rejected what the company called its final contract offer. The lockout affected about 1,300 union-represented workers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

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