Locked-out members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) met with community leaders at the Holiday Inn in South Fargo, where American Crystal Sugar Company was holding its Joint Annual Meeting on Thursday, to discuss harm the over 16-month lockout of union workers is causing the company and community.
"The lockout is hurting, not only factory workers, our families and communities, but Crystal Sugar itself and many people for whom the cooperative has been a source of pride and profit for many years," said Gayln Olson, president of BCTGM Local 372G in Hillsboro. Olson reported that, since the lockout began: Profits have fallen, beet payments are shrinking, production is down and company debt continues to rise.
Olson also noted that the sugar program, on which the Crystal and other sugar producers depend, has not yet been renewed by Congress. And he suggested that investment in new equipment and technology would have been more prudent than spending money to lock out skilled, experienced production workers. Had the company done that, Olson said, "they probably would have been able to process 100 percent of the bumper crop growers produced this year, and shareholders would be counting more profits than losses."
Rev. John Anderson, a chaplain at the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon, ND questioned, "Is God's vision of prosperity and a future of hope being established by this lockout? Are the most vulnerable in our community - children - being served well by this lockout? Are they earning fairness, justice, compassion, generosity and the skills of compromise?" "How can we - not "us," not "them," but we," he asked, "move into a future and prosperity and hope like God told his people 3,500 years ago?"
Jeff Offutt, a teacher at Horizon Middle School and past president of Education Moorhead also spoke: "We have students in class," he said, "thinking about, "What's my dad doing today? Is my mom able to put food on the table tonight? What are we going to do this Christmas?
"Up and down the valley," Offutt continued, "we have kids who don't understand how their parents can put years into jobs and be locked out, just like that; or how their parents could have so little value to Crystal Sugar."
Dianne Wray Williams, a community leader and former Moorhead City Councilor, said, "This business of not even being willing to negotiate . . . I don't understand. When we Midwesterners have a disagreement, we're always willing to sit down and talk things through.
Another Moorhead city council member, Heidi Durand, who is a daughter of a locked out worker observed that the immediate consequences of the lockout are well known, but she is concerned about longer term fallout, for example, situations she has heard of where neighbors who have been friends for years no longer speak to one another because one is a locked-out worker and the other, a replacement worker.
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Sandra Fish, daughter of a locked-out worker read a letter she composed to ACS CEO Dave Berg and company shareholders. "No workers or their families should be going through this," she wrote. "I ask you please to give their jobs back."
Following the discussion, a delegation of community and union members attempted to deliver Christmas-wrapped boxes full of over 100,000 petitions for American Crystal Sugar Company CEO Dave Berg and ACS board members. Petitioners from all over the country pledged to boycott American Crystal Sugar products until the lockout ends and Berg and board members "come back to the table with workers to negotiate a fair contract." Denied access to the meeting hall, the delegation asked if a representative of the Company would come to the door to accept the petitions, but no one came.