|Locked-out workers at weekly “scab-change” rally March 5 outside American Crystal plant, Hillsboro, N.D. Bosses lockout began after workers rejected concession contract last July.|
Some 1,300 workers were locked out after they rejected a concession contract July 30 by a margin of 96 percent. The lockout affects all of American Crystal’s five factories in the Red River Valley of northern Minnesota and North Dakota and two smaller processing plants in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.
American Crystal has kept the plants running with scabs brought in through Strom Engineering, an employment agency that specializes in strikebreaking and union busting.
Lee Schlichtmann, who worked for one year at American Crystal’s plant in Hillsboro, N.D., and Becki Jacobson, a locked-out worker from Moorhead, Minn., spoke here March 20 to a couple dozen people at the offices of Take Back Minnesota, a community-labor group.
“We see corporate greed everywhere, not just in the Red River Valley,” Schlichtmann told the meeting. “We see more lockouts, company bullying, and refusals to negotiate. If these companies prevail, who will be next?” At the meeting more than $1,000 was donated to the sugar workers’ fight.
On March 12 some 60 American Crystal workers from across the Red River Valley picketed outside the Hillsboro plant at evening shift change. “We will continue organizing weekly scab-change rallies as long as it takes,” Scott Ripplinger, from the East Grand Forks plant, said by phone.
On March 14 and 15, more than 100 locked-out workers picketed outside the 50th International Sugarbeet Institute trade show in Grand Forks, N.D. A couple thousand sugar beet farmers, many of them capitalist farmers, attended the event. The region is the largest producer of sugar beets in the U.S.
“For the most part we got a cool reception from the farmers,” said Ripplinger. “At the same time, we were able to have some civil discussions. A couple of them said they weren’t doing well and thought the lockout should end.”
In an attempt to get local workers to cross the picket lines, American Crystal in mid-March sponsored four job fairs near the Drayton, N.D., plant that union supporters attended. “I think workers think hard about crossing a picket line,” said Brad Nelson, vice president of the union local and locked out from the Drayton plant. “We went to all four fairs and counted about a total of 25 workers who came.”
Nelson and Brad Knapper, a worker from the Moorhead plant, are fighting trumped-up criminal charges for alleged incidents while picketing in front of American Crystal plants. Nelson is falsely accused of spitting on a scab during a Dec. 14 shift change, a misdemeanor. Knapper is also charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly scratching a scab’s car the same day, and faces a frame-up felony charge of property damage.
Another challenge in the fight is the denial of unemployment benefits to more than 400 locked-out workers in North Dakota. While those locked out in Minnesota and Iowa receive unemployment payments, the state of North Dakota, with support from American Crystal, has been successful in what many union supporters see as an attempt to starve out the workers.
The union filed a civil suit March 4 against Job Service North Dakota. American Crystal Sugar filed its response on March 9 and the Job Service on March 16.
“We hope the district judge rules in our favor, but we know the decision will be a political decision more than anything,” Terry Holm, a locked-out worker from the Hillsboro plant and former president of the union local there, told the Militant during a recent visit to Gardner, N.D.
Neither North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple nor American Crystal responded to requests from the Militant to comment.
Send messages of solidarity and funds to BCTGM Local 167G, 100 N 3rd St. Suite 50, Grand Forks, ND 58203.
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