MOORHEAD, Minn., Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers Saturday narrowly rejected a contract offer from the Minnesota company for the fourth time, union officials said.
Fifty-five percent of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers Local 167G members who voted turned down the offer, which was largely the same one the company had offered previously, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Sixteen months ago, 96 percent of the workers had voted no. When the last vote was taken in June, 63 percent declined to accept it.
The newspaper said the number of workers voting has dropped as several hundred have retired or quit for other jobs. The union wouldn't reveal how many workers voted this time, the Star Tribune said.
Union local President John Riskey said the members have come too far in their fight with the nation's largest sugar beet processor to give up now.
"After what they have gone through and the fight they have put up, they want to keep up and continue fighting," he said.
American Crystal Sugar has offered to boost workers' wages by 13 percent over five years while at the same time increasing workers' share of healthcare costs.
The union also has expressed concern about contract language they say would erode employee seniority rights for promotions and potentially result in work being contracted out to non-union workers.
There were about 1,300 union workers when the lockout started. About 520 have notified the Moorhead-based, farmer-owned cooperative they've quit or retired, the newspaper said.
American Crystal has about 2,800 growers, and plants in Crookston, East Grand Forks and Moorhead, as well as in Drayton and Hillsboro, N.D.
Company officials have kept the plants operating with replacement workers, but at a cost, the newspaper said. A recent annual report indicated the lockout contributed to a $180 million impact on its bottom line in its last fiscal year.