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Published February 02, 2012, 10:50 AM

American Crystal Union to Fight Sugar Program

EAST GRAND FORKS, MN (WDAZ-TV) - The union representing locked-out American Crystal Sugar sugar workers says it will no longer support the sugar program in Congress.

EAST GRAND FORKS, MN (WDAZ-TV) - The union representing locked-out American Crystal Sugar sugar workers says it will no longer support the sugar program in Congress.

That's a change for the union, which has historically fought for the sugar program alongside farmers and American Crystal Sugar executives in Washington.

Union officials say the change is a response to the company's new strategy.

Union officials say they will keep speaking with legislators to keep them informed on what the lockout is doing to the working class.

Locked-out workers continue to picket outside American Crystal Sugar. After being locked out of their jobs at American Crystal beet procesing plants, the union will begin lobbying against the sugar program in Congress.

"Right now they locked us out, there's no reason for us to show support for the sugar program, to fight them if we are locked out. Let's get this lockout ended so we can work making a good product and making Crystal Sugar a viable company again," John Riskey, president of the local affiliated with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, said.

The sugar program is part of the farm bill. It keeps the domestic price of sugar up by limiting imports of foreign sugar.

"We're having a tough time with our members to give us support to go and do that so we need to get this settled," Riskey said.

An ACS spokesman says he's surprised by the Union's change of heart, since the sugar program has impacts beyond the Red River Valley.

"The employees in those other Sugar Beet company's will also be negatively impacted if we were to lose the sugar program and that would in turn cost more union jobs to be lost to foreign competition," Brian Ingulsrud, Crystal's vice president for administration and spokesman on the contract negotiations, said.

Union representatives say they want to educate lawmakers on what the lock out is doing to workers.

"We have friendly labor representatives out there that fight for us and the cause and we're just making sure they realize what's going on here in the Red River Valley, what they're doing to the middle class, to the labor group," Riskey said.

Both the company and union say they are still willing to negotiate but certain issues are keeping them from finding some common ground.

"It makes it difficult to negotiate when the person you're negotiating with refuses to address certain issues," Ingulsrud said.

Company representatives say they are still willing to negotiate if the union comes to them with a contract that addresses issues they've talked about since the beginning.

The union says they have offered and changed many proposals which haven't been accepted.

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