The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 24      June 18, 2012

(front page)
Workers locked out by sugar bosses
launch Midwest solidarity caravan
Militant/Frank Forrestal
Caravan of workers locked-out by American Crystal near Grand Forks, N.D., June 2.

DRAYTON, N.D.—Two dozen sugar workers and their supporters began a seven-day, 200-mile caravan here May 31 to draw attention to their fight against American Crystal Sugar Co.

The workers are traveling by foot and hay wagon (pulled by a bobcat tractor), along a route to Moorhead, Minn., that connects the five towns in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota where they used to work processing sugar beets in the company’s factories.

Bosses locked out some 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union Aug. 1, 2011, after the workers voted to reject the company’s contract demands.

The company is pressing for concessions that include the ability to replace union jobs with nonunion contract workers, ending seniority as the basis for recalling workers after seasonal layoffs, expanding the number of second-tier workers with lower wages and benefits and less vacation time, raising employee health care costs and eliminating retiree health benefits.

The company prepared well in advance for the strike, lining up hundreds of scabs. The workers responded with pickets and periodic demonstrations, winning solidarity from other workers throughout the region.

The caravan is scheduled to end June 6 with a protest near American Crystal’s corporate headquarters two days ahead of the first formal talks between the union and company since February.

Billed as “a caravan for cooperation and negotiation,” the union seeks to use the action to highlight the inflexibility of the company. As reported in several newspapers, the union says it is willing to discuss concessions on the main points of contention.

“Our shareholders have given us the message that they really want us to stand by our final offer,” American Crystal Sugar Vice President Brian Ingulsrud told Associated Press.

“We are going on the caravan to tell people in this area that we the workers are still here and we are not giving up,” Jack Teigen, a sugar worker with 34 years at the East Grand Forks plant, told the Militant. “For me, the issues of seniority and medical care are both very important. We have accomplished something in this fight, which is togetherness. The union is stronger. But the fight is also starting to wear on everybody.”

Teigen began the journey riding a horse. Seven workers began the journey on motorcycle at the head of the caravan.

“We are marching to make it clear we are still fighting and the company refuses to negotiate,” said Wayne Netterlund, a boiler operator at the plant here. “The fight against the lockout has cost the company a lot of money and made us stronger as a union. There is more solidarity among the workers who have been active in the struggle.”
Related articles:
Cat strikers vote down 2nd giveback proposal
‘We’re sticking together, prepared for fight’
On the Picket Line  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home