By John Riskey, INFORUM
We want to keep working. It’s that simple. As the community already knows, 1,300 Red River Valley residents employed by American Crystal Sugar Co. have been forced off the job against our will. We are your neighbors. We go to church with you. We spend money at local businesses. We raise our families here because the Red River Valley is a great place to live and work.
On Tuesday, American Crystal Sugar Vice President Brian Ingulsrud took to these pages and made some inaccurate statements about the company’s lockout. It’s time to clear the air.
First and foremost, American Crystal Sugar executives can stop this lockout immediately. Union workers have never threatened a work stoppage. All we have asked is to keep working while we negotiate a contract that benefits the company, workers, farmers and the community. As The Forum said in its Wednesday editorial, “… the company’s decision to lock out employees when the union had no intention of striking seems unnecessarily harsh.”
However, if the company wants to negotiate in public instead of joining us at the table, let’s examine the two key issues that have been in the news.
- Contracting: There are legal loopholes that could allow the company to replace union workers with non-union contractors. How? Let’s say the company decides all of a sudden to get rid of certain tools and equipment on-site. That creates a situation that would allow the company to contract for equipment and outside workers to operate it.During negotiations, there was agreement from both sides on contract language to resolve this issue. However, the company’s last contract proposal added new language with these loopholes.
- Health care: For a very long time, American Crystal Sugar employees have valued predictability in our health insurance. Once a contract was agreed on, we could know how much we would need to pay out of pocket. The company’s latest offer eliminates that predictability. Even if we agreed to the plan they are proposing, that would actually reduce take-home pay, the employer could change the premium contribution amount, the deductible and even the coverage itself whenever they choose. Like everyone, we want affordable and dependable coverage that is there when we or our families need it.
There are other problems with the company’s offer. That’s why despite a neutral stance from our negotiating committee, 96 percent of our members voted to reject it.
That being said, we still want to work for American Crystal Sugar. We’ve had a long partnership with this company, and it has been a beneficial one – for the company, workers, growers, and the region. We again respectfully urge company executives to end this lockout. The lockout isn’t just hurting our families, it’s also hurting our local economy and this company’s standing in the community.
We want to get back to work and back to the negotiating table.
Riskey is president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 167G. He works in the Drayton, N.D., American Crystal Sugar facility.