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Vol. 76/No. 1      January 2, 2012

‘Sugar bosses underestimate
us,’ Midwest unionists say
(front page)
EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn.—Support for 1,300 workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar for nearly five months continues to be strong in communities across the Red River Valley of the Upper Midwest. Workers remain determined in face of the bosses’ sustained union-busting campaign.

“They thought we would cave in after a few weeks,” said Scott Ripplinger, a locked-out worker from here. “But we have shown that American Crystal underestimated us. We’re still here.”

The workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, were locked out after rejecting American Crystal’s concession contract proposal Aug. 1 by 96 percent. Three months later, the union rejected a similar contract by 90 percent.

After the lockout, American Crystal brought in more than 1,000 replacement workers from Strom Engineering, a scab-herding outfit in Minnetonka to run its five sugar factories—Hillsboro and Drayton in North Dakota and Crookston, Moorhead, and East Grand Forks in Minnesota—as well as two smaller plants in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

In addition to paying wages, the company picked up housing and per diem costs for the temporary replacement scabs. According to company spokesman Brian Ingulsrud, this was a “short-term move,” which is hurting their bottom line.

In late November, the largest sugar beet producer in the U.S. began hiring “locally based replacement employees” by placing job ads in newspapers from the local area as well as from other states. The ads offer wages from $12.50-$14.75 for general workers to $24.50 for more skilled positions. The ads also promise “day-one benefits including medical, personal and flex” dollars.

“The company is really rubbing it in our face with those ads,” said Gene Johnson, while picketing in front of the East Grand Forks plant here on Dec. 17. “I worked 18 years with the company as a campaign worker [seasonally, about nine months per year] and never received health benefits in all those years. I became full time last year and got benefits for the first time.”

According to a Dec. 2 letter to “Union Employees” posted on American Crystal’s website, the company’s effort to hire replacement workers “has been excellent, and we plan to transition from the Strom employees to these new American Crystal employees over the coming months.” Ingulsrud said the “long-term goal . . . would be for us to hire 1,300 employees.”

“They have had a couple of job fairs to replace all 1,300 of us and they say they have recruited around 100,” Mel Morris, a locked-out worker from East Grand Forks,” told the Militant. “In most cities a company job fair, with unemployment where it is, would have attracted thousands of workers.”

This past week Morris and 30 other locked-out workers went to the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, where the company was holding training sessions for replacement workers. While not allowed to picket, they made their presence known, wearing union jackets and hats, and mixed it up with the newly recruited replacements.

Picketers confront scabs during every shift change. On one such occasion, Dec. 17, this reporter counted about 20 cars entering the plant. Most were from outside North Dakota and Minnesota. They came from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho and Colorado.

The role of Republican and Democratic politicians has been in one way or another to allow the company to campaign to wear down the union.

The union sought the intervention of Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to help bring American Crystal bosses to the negotiating table. Some 400 workers came to a union-organized meeting with the governor at Moorhead State University Dec. 3 where he listened to presentations by locked-out workers and their supporters.

Days after the Moorhead meeting, Dayton was “asked by the federal officials to withhold comment for the time being,” according to Katharine Tinucci, a Dayton spokesperson. The governor has been silent.

“On the day of the big meeting in Moorhead I decided to stay on the picket line that day,” said Johnson. “That’s more important to me. I don’t vote for these people.”

Workers locked out at American Crystal’s two plants in North Dakota have been denied unemployment benefits by the state government.

Solidarity continues to roll in

Support for the locked-out workers continues to be a mainstay of their struggle. “Despite being denied unemployment benefits, and facing several extreme hardship cases, we are still doing pretty good,” said Lynette Eberhardt, a locked-out worker from the Hillsboro plant. “This week some steelworkers brought us 50 turkeys for the upcoming holidays,” she said in an interview at the Hillsboro union hall.

Locked-out workers, invited to a Teamsters Joint Council 32 meeting in Minneapolis on Dec. 16, received more than $10,000 from the Joint Council and local Teamster unions. After the meeting, two American Crystal workers, David Harney and Ripplinger, visited the union picket line of striking International Association of Machinists in front of Polar Tank Trailer in Opole on their way back to the Red River Valley. (See article on page 5.)

“We shared with them a lot of our experiences from our many months on the picket lines,” reported Ripplinger. In an act of solidarity, the locked-out workers also donated some of the food they picked up at the union hall of Local 1189 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union in South St. Paul.
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Workers protest ‘silent raid’ firings  
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