The third time wasn’t the charm and neither was the fourth, as locked-out American Crystal Sugar union workers again rejected the company's contract offer on Saturday.
"BCTGM (Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, Local 176) leaders have informed us that their members have once again rejected American Crystal’s final offer," the company said in a statement on its website devoted to contract negotiations, www.acsccontracttalks.com. "It is a solid and generous package, similar to what we are offering our current employees, and we’re finding the pay and benefits included in it are attracting high quality area workers who are now creating a productive and successful new workforce for our company. The company continues to move forward and focus on running our business, processing beets and delivering sugar to our customers."
A slim majority of 55 percent voted against the offer, down from the 63 percent of union members who rejected it in June and significantly less than the two previous votes – 96 percent in July 2011 and 90 percent in November of last year. The offer has remained essentially the same since just before American Crystal locked out 1,300 workers at seven plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa on Aug. 1, 2011.
While the percentage of union workers participating in the June vote was down to 82 percent, the union declined to disclose how many voted on Saturday. More than 500 have left the union since the lockout began, due to various reasons including retirement and finding employment elsewhere.
“By now it should be clear that Dave Berg and Crystal Sugar’s management team has no interest in ending a fiscally irresponsible lockout that has been disastrous to farmer shareholders, put the federal sugar program in jeopardy, and hurt countless families in the Red River Valley,” John Riskey, president of the union, said in a press release announcing the vote results. “It’s time for shareholders to reclaim their company and send management back to the table for real give-and-take negotiations.”
Riskey added that since the lockout, American Crystal's profits have fallen, production is down and debt continues to rise. Because of Crystal’s refusal to end the lockout, the nationwide consumer boycott of American Crystal Sugar products called for by the AFL-CIO, he added.