Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - Page 15 News List

American Crystal union workers reject company contract

AP, FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA

Locked-out union employees at American Crystal Sugar Co rejected the company’s contract proposal for a third time on Saturday in a dispute that focuses on seniority and job security.

The union announced that 63 percent of its members voted against the latest offer. Union employees said Crystal was out to break the union, while the company has said it offered a good contract with substantial increases in wages and benefits.

In a statement posted on American Crystal’s contract talks Web site, the company said it was “disappointed” in the union’s rejection, but that it “stands by our final offer.”

The labor dispute is the company’s first in 30 years.

The union said on Saturday that 82 percent of the 1,300 union members who have been out of work for nearly a year took part in the vote. The firm has said it will continue to operate with replacement workers.

American Crystal is the largest sugar beet processor in the country, with plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. It is a cooperative owned by beet farmers.

The company’s original offer included a 17 percent wage increase over five years — which is now closer to 14 percent because the contract had a deadline — and increased pension, leave and vacation benefits. The union continued to demand wage and pension increases “significantly above” the final offer, company officials have said.

The union’s first vote, held before the lockout, turned down the contract with a 96 percent “no” vote. The second vote in November last year was 90 percent against the deal.

After the last negotiating session on June 8, the union said that its principal objections revolve around healthcare, drug testing, seniority and qualifications for promotions. The union said the company made it clear in that meeting it was not willing to compromise on any issue. Fearing a strike in the middle of processing season, the company locked out workers on Aug. 1 last year and hired replacements.

Company officials expect the plants to ramp up production in mid-August, earlier than normal because of a large sugar crop.

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