Background to the Lockout
American Crystal Sugar Cooperative (ACS), the largest beet sugar processor in the United States and wholly owned by farmers, locked out its 1,300 union workers August 2011. Since then the co-op met with the workers only three times and has remained adamant that they will not negotiate their contract offer with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) which represents the workers.
ACS has plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, and while the workers in the latter two states receive unemployment benefits as locked out workers, over four hundred workers in North Dakota receive no supplemental wages. Families in small towns all across the Northern Midwest are facing hardship while the co-op hires scabs and rolls in the second most profitable year in history for the farmers who control the co-op.
The union has received support from many local and federal elected representatives. The former CFO of American Crystal Sugar called the co-op's lack of concern for their labor force despicable. Nevertheless, at the last meeting with the co-op, in early June, the union faced an intransigent management team.
In response to the concerns of some of the workers, the union held another vote on the contract Saturday, June 23rd , the third since the lockout began. Previous votes showed over 90 percent rejection of the contract offer, and despite the months-long economic hardships on families, the workers again rejected the co-op offer by almost 2 to 1, with 82 percent of the membership voting.
ACS: A prosperous farmers’ cooperative
American Crystal Sugar proudly stands with the cooperative sector, as it says on its website:
American Crystal Sugar Company is a world-class agricultural cooperative specializing in the production of sugar and related agri-products. American Crystal is owned by approximately 3,000 shareholders who raise 500,000 acres of sugarbeets in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota.
ACS is a member of the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives, which in May declared 2012 the Year of the Farmer Co-op, in coordination with the US and UN Year of the Cooperative commemorations. It is unfortunate that while many communities across the country are celebrating the vital economic benefits that cooperatives have brought to rural America, the communities affected by this lockout are suffering economic hardships.
TO BE DELIVERED TO AMERICAN CRYSTAL SUGAR CEO DAVE BERG
We, the undersigned, members of worker cooperatives, credit unions, food and housing co-ops, cooperative developers and educators, and customers of cooperatives throughout the United States, recognize that throughout American history amicable relations between unions and cooperatives have benefited both and we believe that fair labor practices are a vital element of the cooperative principles that American Crystal Sugar endorses.
We, therefore, as members of the US cooperative community, implore American Crystal Sugar to end the lockout and negotiate in good faith with their employees, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM).
Dear Mr Dave Berg,
The following perition was signed by members of cooperatives who wish to express their support for the workers locked out by ACS. Further, the signatories wish to convey their concern for ACS's trangression of the spirit of cooperation that serves as the foundation for all successful cooperative enterprises.
All the signatories would like you to come to the table and negoriate with the lock-out workers in good faith.