UPDATE – This post has been updated with remarks from American Crystal Sugar below.
WASHINGTON – One of the most powerful labor unions in the country is urging 225 members of Congress, including eight members of Minnesota’s 10 member delegation, to tell American Crystal Sugar to end a year-long lockout of workers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa and return the company’s campaign contributions if it doesn’t settle the labor dispute.
More than 1,300 unionized workers have been locked out of their jobs by the sugar beet processing cooperative since August 2011 when contract talks broke down and were replaced by non-union labor.
“I am sure you do not approve of this blatant disregard for working families and their communities,” wrote AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a letter to every member of Congress who has received the company’s campaign contributions. “I am therefore asking you to use your influence and stature to insist that the company resolve this dispute immediately and end the lockout.”
American Crystal Sugar is a big player on Capitol Hill, giving more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions to members of both parties since 2011, according to opensecrets.org. The company is a beneficiary of a government policy that restricts imports of sugar from overseas. DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack are the only two members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation who have not received campaign contributions from the company in this election cycle.
Seventh District Rep. Collin Peterson, whose district includes many sugar beet farmers and American Crystal Sugar plants, is the biggest recipient of the company’s contributions, receiving $11,750 since January 2011. DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has received the smallest contribution, $1,000.
UPDATE In a brief telephone interview with MPR News, Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal Sugar’s vice president for administration, said the letter would have no impact on the company’s position.
“Our offer was very fair and competitive,” said Ingulsrud, who said the company’s final offer included a 17 percent raise for workers.