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Published November 30, 2011, 10:00 PM

UPDATE: Union Says American Crystal CEO Compared Workers to Cancerous Tumor

(WDAZ-TV) - The union representing 1,300 locked-out sugar workers has released audio recordings of American Crystal Sugar President Dave Berg's comments at a Grafton growers meeting.

(WDAZ-TV) - The union representing 1,300 locked-out sugar workers has released audio recordings of American Crystal Sugar President Dave Berg's comments at a Grafton growers meeting.

Someone at that November 7th meeting recorded Berg's comments and shared the recordings with union leaders.

The union sent four audio files that have been confirmed as American Crystal President Dave Berg.

Now union representatives are saying Berg's comments compared them to a "cancerous tumor" and were "offensive." American Crystal says the audio was taken completely out of context and should never have been released to the public.

Berg shared a story with beet growers about a friend in Fargo dealing with cancer.

"He was sick for a long time. He didn't have energy, he couldn't eat, he couldn't digest. And I'm not saying a labor contract is cancer, but it affects you, it will drag you backwards, you can't do what you need to do," Berg said.

That statement shared in a closed meeting with growers isn't sitting well with the company's locked out union workers.

"Mr. Berg was completely and totally unprofessional in his comments. You know, for all the good work and the profits that the employees have made for Crystal Sugar, to refer to us as a tumor that had to be excised is totally uncalled for," union representative Mel Morris said.

But American Crystal Vice President Brian Ingulsrud says he remembers the remarks very clearly, and says Berg was not likening union workers to cancer.

"What he is referring to is that in order for us to be a healthy company going forward, we need to address some of the issues that we have in our union contract and I think that was the point he was trying to make," Ingulsrud said.

"We can't let the labor contract make us sick forever and ever and ever. We have to treat the disease and that's what we're doing here," Berg said in the recording.

"We didn't say the contract or the people were a tumor, but he alluded to it very heavily," Morris said.

In the four audio clips released by union leaders, Berg says the contract negotiations are necessary now to ensure a healthy future for the company.

"It would have been the simplest thing in the world to just renew the old contract -- five years, let them keep the health benefits, give them a 2% wage increase, and don't change anything else. I know that because I negotiated the last two contracts. At some point that tumor has got to come out. That's what we're doing," Berg said in the recording.

Union representatives are calling this a "serious blow" to an "already strained relationship" between company management and the workers. Right now there are no plans to renew negotiations between the two sides.

The union is holding a news conference in Fargo on Thursday to discuss what they are calling "corporate greed" and will question the motivation of company leaders.

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