East Grand Forks, Minn.—Thirty-four representatives of 11 BCTGM local unions met April 14 to discuss issues of importance to union members employed in the sugar industry. Chief among those issues was American Crystal Sugar’s (ACS) lockout of 1,300 BCTGM members in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa nearly nine months ago.
Participants in the sugar meeting included representatives from Locals 167G (Grand Forks, N.D.), 267G (Crookston, Minn.), 372G (Hillsboro, N.D.), 283G (Twin Falls, Idaho), 369G (Renville, Minn.), 282G (Heyburn, Idaho), 284G (Nampa, Idaho), 285G (Sidney, Mont.), 262G (Croswell, Mich.), 263G (Bay City, Mich.) and 260G (Caro, Mich.). This is the fifth meeting of BCTGM sugar locals since 2008. The group also met in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
BCTGM International Secretary-Treasurer/Director of Organization David B. Durkee led the meeting and provided a forum for the local union leaders to discuss issues, concerns, bargaining strategies and the lockout of fellow union members at American Crystal. Participants of the meeting represent workers at Amalgamated Sugar Co. in Idaho, Sidney Sugars in Montana (owned by ACS), Michigan Sugar Co., Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, and Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative.
Locked out union members discussed the impact the dispute has had on their families and communities since it began on August 1, 2011.
“It was important for us to hold our meeting in the Red River Valley this year so that we could hear from workers affected by this lockout. Also, we wanted to show our solidarity in person,” notes BCTGM Local 260G President Randy Joles, who works for Michigan Sugar.
The local union representatives shared information with one another about the state of the sugarbeet industry and the impact the lockout is having beyond Crystal Sugar. “We are seeing competitors of Crystal Sugar paying out higher payments to co-op members and increasing capital expenditures,” said BCTGM Local 369G
President Wayne Trager, who is employed by Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. “It’s pretty clear to us that Crystal Sugar’s competitors are seeing great opportunities because of the lockout. This situation is hurting our brothers and sisters here in the Red River Valley, and it’s damaging the company, perhaps for the long term. That’s not good for workers or shareholders.”
The BCTGM members visited with locked out workers outside the East Grand Forks factory following the formal meeting proceedings.
“The entire BCTGM International is behind the locked out ACS members. We will stand strong with them as long as it takes to win justice,” says Durkee, who also participated in the solidarity rally outside the East Grand Forks facility.
The locked out ACS members welcomed the solidarity of the BCTGM sugar locals. “Having our brothers and sisters from across the country join us outside the plant is extremely important in this struggle,” reflects Local 167G member Carla Kennedy, who is locked out of her job at the East Grand Forks ACS factory.