AFL-CIO warns Congress on American Crystal Sugar lockout

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.

  • Corey

    Maybe Mr Trumka doesn’t realize that the current ACS workers have families and belong to communities. More than a year after the lockout he is finally going to appear to take action. Nice.

  • Dave B

    What Mr. Trumka chooses to completely overlook is that the replacement workers are also Americans with wives, families, and monthly payments to be made. The only difference is that they are happy to have jobs at ACS under the current terms offered.

    Or is it that only union workers are real Americans?

  • Enelya L

    Maybe congress should insist the union members sign the contract they’ve been offered and they could all have their jobs back immediately.

  • Jamie

    It is mind-boglging to me that what ACS did – the lock-out – is legal. I can hardly believe that it’s legal to do that! But our labor laws have suffered a lot in the last few decades, so maybe that’s why they can do it.

    I think ACS did this in order to bust the union. They probably knew which buttons to push – like offering less job security – to get the workers to reject their offer, planning all along to lock them out so they could just hire new, cheaper workers.

    Incidentally, for this reporter to end the story with the company spokesman saying something about the 17% raise and not offering another side of the story about ACS’s offer, is bad reporting at best, and biased reporting at worst.

    Also, not so incidentally, I am not buying Crystal Sugar any more.

  • Alan Falk

    So, Jamie… are you saying that the only solution or recourse in the “negotiations” between the company and the unionized workers is that the company must agree to the union’s requests/demands?

    The company has NO OTHER alternative?

    Gee,… almost sounds like the union is enjoying monopolistic benefits and advantages over the company… Do you consider that “fair”?

  • Joe Scab

    How very cliche a user named Dave B would say that. Day 1 Benefits? Of course the replacement workers are happy to have jobs under the current terms…..Is this exactly what the locked out workers are turning down? Try reading the contract that was offered with more then a 8th grade reading comprehension. Then you may see that everything is not as cut and dry as the company tries to make it seem.

  • Union Jack

    ACS, a farmer-owned cooperative, is coming out as an anti-union corporation after unionized labor sided with the company to fight trade bills and other legislation which would have weakened the sugar beet trade in this country? I wonder if the shoe manufacturers could stop selling the farmers their work boots? Maybe then they would see that this issue of who you screw is circular – and what goes around comes around. Agriculture built this nation right along with good-paying, middle class organized labor. But now the farmers are getting greedy. Welcome to Ameristan – run by the anti-union Republicans for the anti-union Republicans. The farmers turn to be screwed will come next. They’re just too short-sighted to see it coming.

  • rob

    The people in the factory are doing a fine job. Just watch us set a new production record then we can finally put the old and complacent union members in there place. Dont let the media stories fool you. The plants are running and being maintained better then they ever have.

  • Bill

    Nearly two complete freeze piles of frozen beets rotted in Drayton this past spring being hauled out into the fields in the dead of night so farmers could not see it, they did see a beet payment much lower than other beet growers here in the valley not associated with ACSC did the scabs are setting records alright real records of loss and cost.

  • Chad

    You are correct Rob, you’re doing a fine job. A fine job at starting the factories on fire, making unsellable sugar, and not being able to process the small crop of beets that were grown last year. Other sugar factories across the country made 85 dollars a ton, whereas ACS mad 57. When the Union workers were working we set the standard for payment to our farmers. With this years record crop and sugar content, it will be another enjoyable campaign watching you worthless scabs wrecking a once proud company. Thumbs up for your “fine job”.

  • seasalt

    The replacements would never survive for long if they had to follow the rules of the union contract…The strict attendance policy and the tardy policy would send most of them packing…They get year round status without having to work 85% of the year…They do get benefits that are not offered under the final offer…They get day one benefits that many seasonal workers that worked for years were not offered…No wonder they are happy to have employment at ACS…Most of the vehicles that go in and out are out of state plates from the most economically depressed states in the US…Seems ACS has to give this to keep workers…A huge waste of money for non-producers…If the company is so happy with their temporary workforce why is there jobs available on employment sites that are too numerous to mention? Doesn’t give one the impression that quality workers are working at ACS…

  • Terry

    Labor disputes occur, but the most shocking and action demanding unjustice is the fact that the North Dakota workers are denied unemployment compensation during this lockout. I don’t know of any other state that would refuse unemployment compensation due to a lockout, and thereby penalizes employees for choosing to be represented by a union.

  • Stacey

    I think what the company is doin is terrible they have already had shut downs in some plants and major issues due to poor up keep and so they hired a few locals that some are felons and druggies food job there and to treat their employees that have helped them make good sugar for years and helped fight for their farm and sugar bills what a way to say thanks to them by locking them out these employees have gave up holidays birthdays and family time to give th a sellable product I hope karma slaps the company in the face how u like to be locked out of ur job that u have worked so hard for for years as I see my parents struggle just to be treated fair for their hard work it breaks my heart that they don’t think of their families and the hardship they put on so many families I hope the scab workers enjoy there time there and enjoy putting people in debt because all these scabs came running for a job as soon as they could what couldn’t get hired any other time what a way to stand behind ur neighbors friends and family

  • Taxman

    One side: Employers are always evil and unions are always good.

    Other side: Unions should be allowed to negotiate hard and strike, and companies should be allowed to negotiate hard and have lockouts. Balance is what is important.

    One side: As union workers, we are entitled to be paid more and receive better benefits than the rest of you.

    Other side: Wages and benefits should be based on what it would cost to replace the worker and what the worker could get paid somewhere else.

    One side: Union membership is shrinking. We need to protect the few unions that are left.

    Other side: Protecting the unions doesn’t do much good if the unions shrink because the companies go bankrupt (GM) or realize they need to move manufacturing to China to escape the unions (Apple).

    One side: They just locked us out for no reason!

    Other side: Were we supposed to wait until the middle of the harvest and have them strike? (They were, after all, wearing T-shirts to work saying, “willing to strike”)

    One side: Look how much Berg makes. Look how much the employees make.

    Other side: Look how much the CEOs of equally sized companies make. Look how much employees with the same education and experience at other companies make.

  • usedtomakesugar

    I did not believe in Unions either until I worked at Crystal Sugar

    . #1— they don’t say that they offered 17% raise BUT that is OFF the table now because we did not accept the contract August of 2011. They also don’t say that the insurance cost would go high enough that the workers would actually be in the RED on insurance costs and loose about 8-15% on their pay.

    #2– They don’t say that they want Seniority rights suspended. That alone is really a dumb business plan.because the OLD workers are the ones that really know how things work… I have worked there 14 years and even then I am not as good as the ones that have worked there 30 years. Why get rid off experienced help.

    #3— Every contract before this contract we did not ask for OR take legitimate pay raises to help the pay the cost of healthy insurance.

    #4–They want to suspend the Grievance process. They want to table it for 6 months and then they can drop it as they see fit. The Union Members feel that in working with Crystal Sugar that the grievance system is Important. For instance.. I know someone who got fired for smoking in a non- smoking area.. the person WAS NOT SMOKING IN A NON SMOKING AREA the supervisor said the person admitted to this offense.. but the person did not say that or admit to smoking in a non smoking area. In fact the smoke was coming from a heater that someone had accidentally dropped OIL on the burner and THAT WAS CAUSING the smoke. There are many instances of Grievances filed like this.

    #5 American Crystal discriminates against most of the Female workers. If you are a female, to stay away from problems you better take what American Crystal covertly defines as a “Women’s job”, an of course all of the Women’s jobs are Low paying!

    #6 Yes they are trying to bust the Union. Good workers that have worked at Crystal Sugar since they were 18 work there now, (30+ Years for some) are NOW a health insurance liability to them. Would you like to work some place that HAS USED these Employees since their youth and now that they have health problems brought ON BY the working conditions are just FIRED (they want NO grievance process remember) for NO reason because they have expensive health problems? Honestly you should see all the workers that limp coming out of the Factories at shift change due to working on cement and Iron grates. That is NOT counting the dangerous chemicals that we use that have LONG TERM effects on Workers.

    #7 Overtime is one of the other Factors. Workers with Seniority CAN take the Overtime first. They want this to be changed so they can put any unskilled worker in place without giving the Workers who normally do the job the Choice of Giving Overtime.

    #8 We WERE considered the BEST in Our Field before the Lock OUT. The Farmers received the HIGHEST payment for their crops anywhere in the USA, because WE KNOW how to save Money at the Plants. It will take Years before the Replacement Workers can attain that level of skill sets. This YEAR their payment slid to the Lowest Beet payment. It WILL take MANY years before the replacement workers can attain this quality of work!

    #9 The Growers have basically LOST the Plant to the Management. The Ones who have stood out against Management have been told to keep their mouths shut OR SELL their Beet Stock. The Company already owns 51% of the Stock. They HAVE TO GIVE THE COMPANY the option to sell to them first so the Company WINS either way! I predict IF this strike goes on the BEET stock will not be worth much as the payments go down, the value of the stock will also go down! So then the Company will be able to buy the Stock cheaper to own more of the beet stock.

    #10 This LOCK OUT has been a boon to the OTHER manufacturing plants in the Area. They are so Happy to get Quality hard working Employees. Every Day this Lock Out is Extended Crystal Sugar is loosing MORE Valuable employees.

    11# CEO David berg has nothing to loose he will go on and get JOB SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    12# Crime rates have ALREADY Climbed in this Area. It has been reported that EVEN Child molesters have been hired. One of the Package replacements was running a DRUG Ring. incidents of Home invasion, Robberies, and other MAJOR criminal elements have Moved in with the Replacement Workers. This lock Out has also placed a strain on Social Services in this area. Not only the Locked Out workers applying, BUT THE REPLACEMENT workers applications are jamming the system.

    #13 The Growers are told that They have 7000 workers lined up to REPLACE US. However they are still advertising for help! this is only one Example of the Lies and Miss truths the Company is telling the Growers. They NEED to wake-up and find out for themselves what is really going on! It is hard to get Workers at the Plants during Normal times. Out of Every 10 that are hired only 1-2 stay. Most of the work is done outside, in -30 temperatures, the machinery has more problems during this time and those southern Workers may be OK right now.. BUT JUST wait until they get a northern -90 below windchill and have to work on Steel machinery!

    Thank you for the time you have put into reading the truth about The Lock Out!

  • T L

    This is to the Union workers who claim the replacements are not capable of doing your job. For your information, my son is now working there and very happy to have a job with some benefits, and is also a college educated person. He has been informed that he is doing his job at three times the rate your union worker did. Yes, that its three times! and for less than half your pay. So cut the lies and crap and accept the fact you are wrong. Go to work and quit whining. Be thankful for what you are being offered. Others were.

  • seasalt

    To address the comment posted by TL: If your college educated son is doing so great as he claims why did ACS go from being #1 in the industry in the Nation to last place in less than a year (as evidenced by the beet payments that ACS growers received)? Sorry to tell you that I had worked there for 22 years AND I have a college education also. This is an industry that must learned from the ground up. No amount of studying books will teach the ever evolving process of making sugar. I will only believe what your son is saying when the numbers prove it. I will not hold my breath. Also tell your son not to be lulled into a sense of false security like the union was when corporate told us we were “the very best at what we do” as well as being the company’s best asset.

  • seasalt

    AND to add: The union had the numbers to back up my previous post. Record profits and production. All this without any lost time accidents. Lets see if your college educated son can live up to those facts!

  • chad

    TL, simply put, either you, or your son is a big liar. The proof is out there, there is no more hiding the truth. ACSC paid their farmers WAY less than any other sugar cooperative. The years before, they were always first. What job does he do where he could quantify doing three times more than past employees? In my factory, we made it through a campaign 2 years ago with record efficiency, record profit, record slice, and no lost time accidents. If what you say is true, their beet payment should have been $90 a ton last year. Get facts straight and you might want to straighten out your son for being full of it.