Locked-out workers take message on the roadAbout two dozen union supporters rallied along the Red River here before beginning a 200-mile, week-long pilgrimage of sorts following a hay wagon to the other four towns with American Crystal Sugar Co. processing factories.
By: By Stephen J. Lee , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
DRAYTON, N.D. — About two dozen union supporters rallied along the Red River here before beginning a 200-mile, week-long pilgrimage of sorts following a hay wagon to the other four towns with American Crystal Sugar Co. processing factories.
“We are fighting for our jobs,” said Becki Jacobson, who has worked 30 years at the Moorhead Crystal plant and rode her motorcycle to and in the caravan. “We want to go back there.”
About 1,300 workers have been locked out since Aug. 1, the day after they rejected the company’s proposed five-year contract. As the dispute rolls into its 11th month, the Bakery Workers union is trying to jack up interest in their cause before the next meeting with management on June 8.
Brad Nelson, a union leader at the Drayton plant, said the idea is to galvanize the attention of the public on the “financial and emotional burden,” the lock-out has put on the workers and communities. “It’s brought division among relatives, brother against brother.”
He, his wife and his stepson all are locked out of their jobs at the Drayton plant, Nelson said, and spending their savings to make ends meet.
After a slight delay this morning as a burned-out wheel bearing on the borrowed hay wagon was replaced, the group began a slow procession out of Drayton toward Grafton, about 20 miles away.
There was a bit of a festive air as the group set out.
Laurie Moen, locked-out from the East Grand Forks factory, brought her grandsons, Cameron Elliot, 11, and Curtis Moen, 7, who rode their bikes, then the hay wagon on the trip to Grafton past sugar beet and wheat fields.
Jack Teigen and Dave Wasylow, both with 34 years at the Crystal plant in East Grand Forks, rode their Paint horses, Tess and Spot, trailing the hay wagon.
Teigen said it’s a question of fairness: “The last five years, American Crystal has made record profits and then we get locked out? That’s a hard one to take.”
The small group planned to camp in Grafton. It is scheduled reach Oslo, Minn., on Friday; East Grand Forks on Saturday; Crookston on Sunday; Climax, Minn., on Monday; Hillsboro, N.D., on Tuesday; and finally Moorhead on Wednesday.
There, union members will join in a 4 p.m. prayer outside the gates of Crystal’s corporate headquarters.
Workers from each plant will join the caravan along the way, said union local president John Riskey of Drayton, who led the event from his Harley Davidson.
Taking a stand
Gary Granzotto, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, stood on the wagon to address the group.
Union members’ resolve in demanding a better contract perhaps isn’t in their own self-interest after they have missed nearly a year of work, he said. “But it is a stand for workers across the state and the country as sharing in a partnership in the creation of wealth.”
Crystal hired temporary replacement workers during the lockout, hundreds of them from among local residents, including some former union members. Many other union members have moved on to new jobs or new ventures such as college.
Crystal officials have said the long-term success of the company requires union members to pay a share of their health insurance costs and to give the company more flexibility in making work assignments.
Union members have said wage increases the company offered would not make up for what they would lose with new work rules and health insurance costs.
Stephen Lee is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.