The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 32      September 12, 2011

(front page)
Locked-out workers stand
firm as beet harvest nears
Militant/Frank Forrestal
American Crystal Sugar plant, Hillsboro, North Dakota, August 27. Locked-out workers with rat donated by Teamsters Local 120.

CROOKSTON, Minn.—With the harvest approaching, locked-out sugar workers are standing firm with round-the-clock pickets, and solidarity continues to be organized across the Red River Valley. The 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union have been locked out by American Crystal Sugar since August 1, two days after workers rejected the bosses’ “final” offer by a 96 percent margin.

“Pre-piling of sugar beets begins September 6,” said Rick Roper, picketing outside the sugar factory here. “Pretty soon it’s going to get tense as the company starts up production.” New talks between the union and company broke down after one day, he said. “The company offered the same deal we rejected.” The union is demanding the company restart negotiations.

The only change in the “final offer” announced by company Vice President Brian Ingulsrud is to withdraw the $2,000 signing bonus, which many workers consider a bribe in the first place.

Workers are locked out at five plants in the Red River Valley region of Minnesota (Crookston, Moorhead, East Grand Forks) and North Dakota (Hillsboro, Drayton), as well as two smaller facilities in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa. At four plants visited over the August 27-28 weekend, pickets reported that in preparation for the harvest, American Crystal Sugar, the largest beet-sugar producer in the U.S., has added more surveillance lights and guards and is hiring additional scab labor.

David Pearson, a locked-out sugar worker in East Grand Forks, said some locked-out workers joined a one-day informational picket August 17 called by nurses in Bemidji. Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association there have authorized a strike against Sanford Medical Center over safe staffing levels and no cuts in benefits. Pearson said the nurses donated $10,000 to the locked-out workers.

In an act of solidarity, Pearson is donating his weekly $100 union check to locked-out coworkers in North Dakota, where state officials have denied them unemployment benefits. He’s not the only one doing that, he said.

Deb Hegg, who’s been at the Crookston plant 14 years, said they are getting support from union workers “at New Flower Bus, Department of Transportation workers, teachers, Teamsters from the university, and lots of donations of pizza, donuts, and water.”

A 12-foot inflatable rat donated by the Teamsters is making the rounds at picket lines, traveling from East Grand Forks to Hillsboro over the weekend. BCTGM Local 48G in Keokuk, Iowa, sent a $500 check this week. The Keokuk local ended a 10-month lockout against Roquette America in July.

Sonnie Collison, vice president of Local 167G in East Grand Forks, said the union is organizing weekly Friday rallies from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at the Sorlie Bridge on Demers connecting East Grand Forks and Grand Forks. “If we lose this fight, it could have a domino effect on other unions,” said Collison.

“Locked-out workers are starting to feel financial pressure,” said Sie Rawls in Drayton. “Most of us knew the lockout was coming and set aside money, but with no unemployment it’s going to get tough.” The union is setting up a hardship fund, and workers are using food pantries. The union is demanding that the North Dakota government provide jobless benefits.

In early August scabs derailed a molasses tank car on company property, said Rawls. “It’s been lying on its side for three weeks.” Union rail workers from the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe “have refused to cross the picket line to put the car back on the rails.”

The Militant continues to receive a welcome reception on picket lines and in towns in the valley. This weekend 12 workers picked up subscriptions, including nine on the picket lines.

Donations can be sent to the Sugar Beet Workers Fund, 175 Aurora Ave., St. Paul, MN 55103. Write checks to Minnesota AFL-CIO, with “BCTGM Lockout 2011” in the memo line.

Tom Baumann contributed to this article.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home