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Published June 23, 2012, 06:27 PM

Union Workers Reject American Crystal Contract for 3rd Time

(AP) — Locked-out union employees at American Crystal Sugar Co. rejected the company's contract proposal a third time Saturday.

By: Associated Press,

(AP) — Locked-out union employees at American Crystal Sugar Co. rejected the company's contract proposal a third time Saturday.

The union announced that 63 percent of voters opted against the latest offer. The company said it will continue to operate with replacement workers.

About 1,300 workers have been out of work for nearly a year in a labor dispute that focuses on seniority and job security. Union employees said Crystal was out to break the union. The company said it offered a good contract with substantial increases in wages and benefits.

American Crystal is the largest sugar beet processor in the country, with plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. It's a cooperative owned by beet farmers.

The company's original offer included a 17 percent wage increase over five years — which is now closer to 14 percent because the contract had a deadline — and increased pension, leave and vacation benefits. The union continued to demand wage and pension increases "significantly above" the final offer, company officials have said.

The union's first vote, held before the lockout, turned down the contract with a 96 percent "no" vote. The second vote in November was 90 percent against the deal.

After the last negotiating session on June 8, the union said that its principal objections revolve around health care, drug testing, seniority and qualifications for promotions. The union said the company made it clear in that meeting its not willing to compromise on any issue.

Fearing a strike in the middle of processing season, the company locked out workers on Aug. 1 and hired replacements. Company officials expect the plants to ramp up production in mid-August this year, earlier than normal because of a large sugar crop.

The company has plants in East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Crookston and Chaska, Minn.; Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D.; and Mason City, Iowa.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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