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Michael Frank headed over to a rally in East Grand Forks, Minn., last night, one of many he’s taken part in over the past year. Frank, along with 1,300 other workers, was locked out of the American Crystal Sugar factory a year ago, and last night’s event was part of the workers’ ongoing efforts to urge the sugar beet processing company return to the bargaining table.

“They don’t want to sit down with us,” said Frank, a 33-year veteran with with company and currently day warehouse foreman. “We didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

The company locked out the workers Aug. 1, 2011, during bargaining talks over a successor contract between American Crystal Sugar and five local unions of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM) at various locations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.

BCTGM members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s final offer last year, which included significant increases to workers’ health care costs and major changes to job security, including the right to outsource work and seniority language. (Sign a petitioncalling on American Crystal Sugar CEO Dave Berg to treat workers fairly and return to the bargaining table.)

Before locking out the workers, the company was hugely profitable, with $1.5 billion in fiscal 2011 net earnings, up from $1.2 billion in 2010. In 2011, CEO Dave Berg took in nearly $2.5 million in total compensation.

American Crystal has replaced the workers, bringing in people from around the country and creating tension throughout the once close-knit community. In small farming towns like East Grand Forks, it’s easy to run into someone who just took your job.

As Frank describes it:

We’re basically another middle class getting beat up here in the valley. What used to be family isn’t any more.
It’s also hard to imagine newcomers performing such highly skilled work. Before he became a foreman, Frank’s job involved molasses desurgarization—a new process by which more sugar is extracted than ever before by running molasses through resin beads.

Although clearly frustrated by his many months off the job, Frank, 52, remains solid in his commitment to stick with his co-workers and demand Crystal Sugar give workers a fair shake. A widow who’s caring for his three children, ages 6, 9 and 12. Frank is an active member of his local union’s solidarity committee, a group that reaches out to the Red River Valley community to mobilize participation in events and to fundraise for the families affected by 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 The company is a beneficiary of a government policy that restricts imports of sugar from overseas, writes Minnesota Public Radio News.

This week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to 177 members of Congress who have accepted campaign contributions from Crystal Sugar this year and urged them to send the company’s money back. In it, Trumka writes:

Rather than negotiate with BCTGM to provide a fair share of the earnings to the workers who were instrumental in generating them, this company and its management have embarked upon a path designed to break the union itself. David Berg, the current CEO, has likened the workers and their contract to a “cancerous tumor.” I am sure you do not approve of this blatant disregard for working families and their communities.
Many unions have contributed to the strike fund, and the  workers have received support from throughout their communities. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) called on the company to return to the bargaining table and pointed out that the workers “stood shoulder to shoulder with the company to fight for a better sugar program in the farm bill just because that’s how dedicated they are.” Yet,
What have they got in return? They’ve gotten locked out.
(Watch a video of Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinksi calling Crystal Sugar CEO Berg—and you can do the same: 218-236-4400.)

 Members of the unions’ “road warriors” group travels throughout the country to get out their message and build support. In May, two-dozen locked-out workers traveled from Drayton, N.D., for a seven-day, 200-mile  journeyto Moorhead, Minn., headquarters of American Crystal Sugar. Earlier this year, workers from American Crystal joined locked out workers from Cooper Tire in a 1,000-mile Journey for Justice from Fargo, N.D., to Findlay, Ohio. The journey highlighted the corporate greed behind the lockouts, and the growing drive by corporate CEOs to drive down wages and benefits to pad their own pockets.

Speaking at last night’s rally, Anthony, 15, son of a locked-out worker, said Crystal Sugar would learn that

When you pick a fight with one working family, you are picking a fight with all working families.
Contribute to the strike relief fund.
Sign a petitioncalling on American Crystal Sugar CEO Dave Berg to treat workers fairly and return to the bargaining table.
Get the latest updateson the Crystal Sugar lockout.

(This is a crosspost from the AFL-CIO Now blog.)

Originally posted to Tula Connell on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 07:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Do they produce brands that can be boycotted? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ColoTim, Larsstephens

    Please donate to Okiciyap food pantry. . If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

    by weck on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 08:38:13 AM PDT

    •  I was wondering this as well. I've usually (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Crider, weck, Lucy West

      purchased C&H and paid the extra premium for the idea that the sugar came from Hawaiian sugar cane but yesterday I purchased a bag of Kroger sugar for canning that I'm sure came from beets.  Probably Colorado beets, which is why I chose it, but I'd like to know if they produce lines of sugar that I might consume (or that might be in products I consume).

      •  I see Crystal brand here in California (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        weck, ColoTim

        But am only buying cane sugar these days because of the new GMO sugar beets which were introduced in this year's crops.

        "Societies strain harder and harder to sustain the decadent opulence of the ruling class, even as it destroys the foundations of productivity and wealth." — Chris Hedges

        by Crider on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 09:01:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No knock on you but if you ever saw the cane (0+ / 0-)

          fields down in the Everglades.... nasty nasty nasty

          The modern GOP -- Big noise on the stairs, nothing coming down. 

          by PHScott on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 12:29:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, "Crystal Sugar" is their brand name, (0+ / 0-)

          the logo consists of concentric circles that form what looks a little like a wheel with "Crystal" arched around the top half and "Sugar" around the bottom half.  The basic refined white sugar is in a white bag with blue and red trim/accents.  Other types (brown sugar, e.g.) use other colors, but all have the logo.

          My dad was a beet farmer in the Red River Valley until he lost his farm owing to several bad weather years in a row.  He struggled to support his family (7 kids in all) and some winters he worked at the beet plant in Moorhead -- the beets are harvested in the late fall and then processed into sugar over the winter months. He shoveled coal into the furnaces there, by hand, on the night shift. I remember so well his coming home black from head to toe just as we were heading off to school in the morning.  The workers weren't organized at that time (mid-50's), the pay was meager and benefits non-existent; but it brought home some money and that was better than nothing.

          Many (including yours truly) had great hopes for the company when it became a co-op but over the years it's grown into a huge corporation with none of the feeling of a cooperative.  This lock-out has caused hardship all up and down the Valley. I encourage all Kossacks to support the workers and boycott the product.

          The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life. Jane Addams

          by Alice Olson on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:44:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  So depressing. So infuriating. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    weck, PHScott, blueintheface

    This is really one of those stories that makes me want to crawl under the couch and hide. I can't even deal.

  •  Then there is Florida Crystals Corp (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    good products using sugar cane but then they abused the Everglades. Lots of imports but who knows about env. & labor standards overseas. And finally the family is a big donor to right-wing politics with an imposing Cuban connection.

    The modern GOP -- Big noise on the stairs, nothing coming down. 

    by PHScott on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 12:27:02 PM PDT

  •  Sugar (0+ / 0-)

    Perhaps the union was asking for too much. It seems that unions are really starting to up the ante with regards to requests for increased pay and paid sick leave. I've seen these actions cause companies to close or move overseas in the past.

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