Locked Out Workers Launch 7-Day Caravan for Cooperation and Negotiation
Workers and Supporters Call on Crystal Sugar to Engage in Real Negotiations to Reach Fair Contract
Drayton, ND—This morning, two-dozen workers who have been locked out of their jobs at American Crystal Sugar Co. (ACS) for ten months walked out of Drayton on their way to Grafton, ND. Over the next seven days, the workers—members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM)—will walk or ride in a hay wagon approximately 200 miles as they make their way to Moorhead, MN, where ACS is headquartered.
Their goal is to draw attention to the ongoing lockout and its impact on their communities. They will camp out each night and invite the public to join them for potluck suppers, live entertainment, and fellowship. They hope to discuss their struggles of the last 10 months and how they believe they can resolve this struggle, through cooperation and real negotiation.
“We are calling on Crystal Sugar management to engage in real negotiations when we meet them on June 8,” said Gayln Olson, a locked out worker and president of BCTGM Local 372G. “The women and men of the caravan are undertaking this journey to affirm that union members want to cooperate with Crystal Sugar shareholders and executives to end the lockout and negotiate a contract that’s fair for workers, the company, farmers, and customers.”
Workers point to the profound impact the lockout has had on their families and their communities up and down the Red River Valley for ten long months. Workers like Brad Nelson of Drayton have been unable to collect unemployment insurance like their co-workers in Minnesota because of North Dakota law. The financial impact on many families has been devastating.
“I worked for Crystal Sugar for 32 years before they locked me out last August. My wife and my step-son worked for the company too,” said Nelson, who worked at the Drayton factory. “This lockout has hit our family hard financially. We’ve been getting by on our savings. But this has taken an emotional toll too. I thought the farmers and the company thought a lot more of us than this, especially after 30 plus years on the job. My wife and I have devoted our whole careers to this company, and this is the thanks we get.”
Gary Granzotto, President of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, spoke before the workers began their journey. He called on the company to end the lockout and the resulting devastation. “Your lockout strategy has divided families and neighbors. There used to be a cooperative partnership among farmers, workers, and management,” he said. “Now there is distrust, frustration, and anger. There can be no dollar assessment placed on these losses.”
Despite the devastation wrought on many workers’ lives, they continue to call on the company to simply engage in genuine negotiations with them when the two sides meet on June 8. “Crystal Sugar is a cooperative that has been built by cooperation among farmers, factory workers, and managers,” said Olson. “That cooperation has produced record profits in recent years, and, only through cooperation will we be successful again.”
After brief remarks by Granzotto and several workers, the caravan was escorted out of town by a group of workers on motorcycles. They expect to arrive in Grafton by the late afternoon where they will camp at the City Park. Members of the public are invited to join the caravan for a potluck supper at 6 p.m.
Other stops on the caravan include:
June 1: Grafton, ND, to Oslo, MN
Camping at City Park/Oslo; live entertainment; potluck supper at 6 p.m.
June 2: Oslo, MN, to East Grand Forks, MN
Camping at SRA Campground; live entertainment; potluck supper at 6 p.m.
June 3: East Grand Forks, MN, to Crookston, MN
Camping at Central Park, potluck supper at 6 p.m.
June 4: Crookston, MN, to Belmont Park, ND
Camping at Belmont Park near Climax; live entertainment; potluck supper at 7:30 p.m.
June 5: Belmont Park, ND, to Hillsboro, ND
Camping at City Park (east of town); live entertainment; potluck supper at 7:30
June 6: Hillsboro, ND, to Moorhead, MN
Arriving at Davies Memorial Park in Moorhead at 4 p.m.
March to ACS Corporate Headquarters for prayer vigil