Locked-Out Sugar Workers’ Resort to Kids Stories As A Last Hope

A little over a year ago, members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (“BCTGM”), and company, American Crystal Sugar entered into a union contract dispute. This dispute resulted in the BCTGM members “overwhelmingly reject[ing] the company’s final offer, which included significant increases to workers’ health care costs and major changes to job security, including the right to outsource work and seniority language.”  The consequences of rejecting this final offer in August 2011 resulted in more than 1,3000 sugar workers locked out of American Crystal Sugar plants in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa. Over these fourteen months, it is quite clear who has been at the brunt of this lockout. Though a little over one thousand employees have not been working at these plants, there has not been any implication of adverse impact on the company. The company has not been hesitant to hire local replacement workers, and in 2011, CEO Dave Berg has taken in “nearly $2.5 million in total compensation.” This is a drastic contrast with a majority of the BCTGM member’s and their current state, where “the workers and their families have been struggling to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table.”

Over these fourteen months, there have been different attempts to reach an agreement within this contract, however, it seems like it has come to the final stages, as the company officials have asserted they “have made their final offer,” despite the BCTGM workers discontent and desire to continue with negotiations. In desperate measures, these workers have “called on their children in an effort to get the company to negotiate an end to this dispute.”

The lockout has had dire economic consequences,” as most of these families have been driven to rely on public assistance to maintain health care coverage, and many local restaurants and businesses have been forced to close. On September 29th, these children gathered “to write letters to company officials and farmers who are company board members,” describing “the impact the lockout has had on them,” including concerns to afford college and losing their family home. Though these efforts made “in the hope of making the company realize” this lockout needs to end are genuinely expressed concerns, the history of this contract dispute suggests American Crystal Sugar will not be influenced and not return to negotiations.