Union seeks to resume negotiations
The union representing 1,300 locked out American Crystal Sugar Co. workers plans to contact the federal mediator assigned to the case this week to request a negotiating session with company management in an attempt to end a lockout that has stret...
The union representing 1,300 locked out American Crystal Sugar Co. workers plans to contact the federal mediator assigned to the case this week to request a negotiating session with company management in an attempt to end a lockout that has stretched on for more than 70 days.
Union spokesperson Mark Froemke said negotiators representing the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union workers planned to bring new proposals to the table that offer "substantial" movement from previous union positions. Froemke declined go into specifics about what the union will propose.
"I would hope that American Crystal Sugar and the union can sit down in an adult manner and discuss how we can end this lockout in a way that is beneficial to not only the company, but also to the workforce and to the farmer-grower-owners," Froemke said. "We believe that this can happen."
Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal's vice president for administration, said the company would agree to meet with union representatives if prompted to do so by the federal mediator.
Talks between company management, the union and the mediator in late August failed to yield any progress, and both sides emerged from the meeting pointing fingers at the other.
"We'll need to see what the union comes back with," Ingulsrud said when asked if the company would be willing to compromise. "It will depend on how willing they are to truly sit down and address the issues that we believe are important. If they are not willing to discuss those, I don't think negotiations will be very fruitful."
During the talks in August, the union offered to negotiate potential health insurance coverage changes if the company agreed to remove all the controversial wording changes to the contract that union representatives worry could erode collective bargaining rights and lead to the contracting out of union jobs, a claim the company denies.
The company did not make a counter proposal during the August negotiations, offering the same "final contract" that 96 percent of voting union members had resoundingly voted down July 30 -- two days before the company locked out its entire union-represented workforce. The company's last contract proposal no longer contains a $2,000 signing bonus offered workers if they approved it by Aug. 1.
Froemke, who is affiliated with the AFL-CIO of Minnesota while on leave from American Crystal's East Grand Forks plant, said union representatives have had informal meetings with some of the grower-owned cooperative's 2,800 growers. He said the union did not attempt to negotiate a contract with the growers and that the meetings helped to clear the air and allowed each group to gain a better understanding of the other's position.
"It allows us to talk with the farmer-grower-owner and let them understand that we as the union want a solution to the contract dispute," Froemke said. "For us, our only goal is to find a solution to make sure that our members go back to work. That is what our goal has been from Day 1. It has given us the ability to clear the air and put to rest some perceptions on their side and also our side."
Froemke declined to speculate on any potential impact the meetings with growers might have on negotiations with company management.
Ingulsrud said he hasn't heard of any growers contacting company management after the meetings with union representatives and wasn't aware of any pressure being placed on management to make a deal with the union. He said the majority of growers still support company management and back management's position.
"I don't think that's changed," Ingulsrud said.
Ryan Schuster is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.