More grower’s appear to support Crystal managementAs American Crystal Sugar Co. growers shift into high gear today to lift the 2011 crop, their union workers are still standing on the outside looking in after two months of a lockout. What do the growers think about that?
By: By Mikkel Pates, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
As American Crystal Sugar Co. growers shift into high gear today to lift the 2011 crop, their union workers are still standing on the outside looking in after two months of a lockout.
What do the growers think about that?
Apparently, many — perhaps a majority — are fine with the way their company has prepared for a lockout of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union workers. Few will talk about it.
Agweek attempted to contact more than a dozen growers who have knowledge of the status of the expired contract, especially current or past leadership in the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. Some are simply long-time Crystal shareholders.
One Minnesota beet grower, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said commenting on the situation “doesn’t do us much good.” The grower said he had not read through all of the “fine details” of American Crystal management’s proposals, but he thinks the vast majority of growers feel the company has handled the negotiations and lockout properly.
Paul Mathiason of Grand Forks, who farms near Thompson, N.D., said he felt the company was “exonerated” by the National Labor Relations Board, which last week dismissed a union charge that the company had failed to negotiate in good faith. The union is appealing the ruling.
Another grower-shareholder in the company, also from Minnesota, expressed sympathy for the workers and wants to keep a viable union in place, and believes that important politically in light of the 2012 farm bill. The farmer declined to say whether the union has behaved wisely through the impasse, or whether union members should reconsider the last Crystal proposal.
“These are local workers,” Mathiason said. “We’d like them to go back to work.” He said he didn’t know how long the impasse will last and regrets that it will “take a while to rebuild” a relationship with union workers.
Mathiason, a former president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, said he believes a central issue is whether Crystal has the ability to put “people where they’re most effective” in the plant, regardless of seniority or educational credentials.
He said farmers can understand that thinking because “that’s how we operate on our own farms,” especially as farmers have dealt with high-tech equipment changes.
The union has maintained that American Crystal’s expired contract allowed the company to succeed.
One grower said the company may be doing well today, but that the changes management seeks are important for the future viability of the company.
Management have underlined to farmers and shareholders that the unions have accumulated “unbelievable power,” the grower said, and have gotten “too carried away” in control of job rules. The company really wants the workers to come back, he said.
Union members may be holding out hope the factories won’t be able to operate safely or efficiently without them, the grower said, but it appears in conversations he’s had with fellow growers that the factories are being run adequately enough with replacement workers, at least so far.
He said he fears the AFL-CIO affiliated union may be “leading them astray.”
It has been difficult to listen to talk radio commentators on the topic, the grower said.
“They’re kind of one-sided, but I take it with kind of a grain of salt,” he said. “They’ve been getting advertising pretty heavy from the union side.”
Crystal management has taken the “high side” of the road, the grower said, by not trying to publicize “things that would make the union look bad.”
Asked how much how much extra they think the company — the growers — are paying to keep the replacement workers in place, and the union locked out, the two Minnesota growers wouldn’t speculate.
“I know over time it’s going to add up,” a grower said. “So far the costs aren’t more than they projected.”
He said the main financial issue for farmers is to get their beets processed.
“Management is working hard to make sure that isn’t a problem,” he said.
Mikkel Pates is a reporter
for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.