Contract vote set at American Crystal

Nov. 23, 2012 at 3:12 PM
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MOORHEAD, Minn., Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Locked out workers at Minnesota's American Crystal Sugar Co. will vote next week on a contract they say is much the same as one they've rejected three times.

The company locked out workers 16 months ago and has been operating with replacement workers.

Workers at the company's facilities in Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers -- the union that represents 5,000 bakers at Hostess Brands. At least 90 percent of them rejected American Sugar's initial contract offer in two votes last year and 63 percent voted no in June.

The contract calls for a 13 percent pay raise over five years but requires employees to pay more out-of-pocket for healthcare. It allows the company to contract out more union jobs, the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune reported Friday.

"From the company's perspective, it's a very good offer," American Crystal spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said, while acknowledging the current offer is essentially the same as the one the employees have previously rejected.

About 1,300 union workers were employed at the company when the first contract vote was held but that number has shrunk by about half, with some taking retirement or leaving for other work, the newspaper said.

Jeannie Madsen -- who worked at American Crystal for about 10 years but now makes about $4 less per hour as a certified nursing assistant -- said: "People are giving up. People are losing everything. People just want their jobs back."

The current average annual wage at the plant is $40,000 a year, the newspaper said.

The AFL-CIO has called for a nationwide boycott of American Crystal Sugar products.

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