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American Crystal Sugar Lock-out
Rallies target company supplying replacements for locked-out sugar industry workers

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, September 30, 2011

By Steve Share, Labor Review editor

MINNETONKA — As the Labor Review went to press, American Crystal Sugar’s lock-out of 1,300 union workers neared the end of a second month — with no new negotiations scheduled.

American Crystal Sugar is operating its plants with replacement workers supplied by Minnetonka-based Strom Engineering. Strom’s offices, which front Interstate 394 just east of Hopkins Crossroads, offered Twin Cities union members a high visibility site for two rallies September 1 and 16 showing support for the locked-out workers.

The rallies outside Strom’s headquarters called for an end to the use of scab labor and an end to the lock-out of the 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers union.

The allies drew 60-80 union members from a broad cross-section of unions, including locked-out BCTGM union workers from East Grand Forks and Chaska.

The September 1 rally marked the start of the second month of the lockout.

American Crystal Sugar’s customers are rejecting the inferior sugar product produced by scab labor, reported Doug Thomsen, BCTGM member from American Crystal Sugar’s plant in East Grand Forks. Thomsen worked 35 years at the company until an injury prompted his retirement in January.

“Let’s get the scabs out of there,” said Dean Hemmelgarn, one of the locked-out BCTGM workers from East Grand Forks, addressing the rally. The replacement workers, he said, can’t operate the equipment at the plant safely and properly. “They blew up one of our boilers,” he said.

Jerry Lahr, president of BCTGM Local 265G in Chaska, said nearly all the 19 workers locked-out there were present at both the September 1 and September 16 rallies. “We want the scabs to go home and we want to go back in and do our jobs,” said Lahr, who has worked 36-1/2 years at the Chaska plant. He also reported production problems at the Chaska facility, where union workers have been replaced. “No one can do the job as well as a trained, experienced union worker.”

American Crystal Sugar “had record profits three years in a row,” Lahr noted. “They’re spending their extra money on union-busting.”

“When you have a contract voted down by 96 percent, there’s something wrong,” Lahr said. He emphasized: “we kept telling [the company] we will not go on strike; we would work without a contract.”

‘Plain old greed’

Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, spoke to the September 1 rally. She related how two years ago she was invited to meet with American Crystal Sugar’s CEO, Dave Berg. “He talked over and over again about how important the relationship was between the company and the workers and the farmers… What happened?”

“Corporate America is doing well and sitting on record cash and they are using every excuse they can to undermine middle class jobs and wages,” said State Representative Ryan Winkler, speaking to a reporter after the September 1 rally. “Unless we have a strong middle class, we are never going to turn this economy around.”

“In this case,” Winkler continued, “American Crystal Sugar is making record profits. Their CEO is making a record salary. There’s no reason they should be trying to get concessions right now. It looks like plain old greed.”

“One union brother’s fight is a fight for all of us. They’re trying to pick us off one at a time.… It is such a time to fight back,” said Dorothy Maki, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, who attended both rallies.

The September 16 rally featured a strong turn-out by members of Laborers Local 563, who brought their giant inflatable rat to sit outside Strom’s offices. This rally took place during morning rush hour and attracted honking horns in support from passing cars, trucks and Metro Transit busses.

“This is everybody’s fight,” said Tim Mackey, Laborers Local 563 business manager. “If Labor doesn’t start to unite and stand behind each other, we’re in trouble.”

For more on this story:

Action at Strom Engineering to support locked-out workers
(MRLF facebook photo album, September 1, 2011)

Rally#2 at Strom Engineering to support locked-out sugar workers
(MRLF facebook photo album, September 16, 2011)

 

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