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Published July 20, 2011, 09:05 PM

1,300 American Crystal Employees Preparing For Company Lockout

Around 1,300 union workers at American Crystal Sugar factories in East Grand Forks, Crookston, Drayton, Hillsboro and Moorhead have been asked to clear out their personal belongings and to prepare for an August 1 company lockout.

Around 1,300 union workers at American Crystal Sugar factories in East Grand Forks, Crookston, Drayton, Hillsboro and Moorhead have been asked to clear out their personal belongings and to prepare for an August 1 company lockout.

Negotiations between American Crystal Sugar and the union have broken down, and the union has filed "unfair labor practices" complaints against the company.

One employee, David Pearson, has taken pride in his job with American Crystal Sugar in East Grand Forks since 1986.

"A couple of weeks ago I turned 63, but I don't want to retire, I still want to work," Pearson said.

An August 1 company lockout could change that for Pearson and around 1,300 other union employees.

"We're fighting for our jobs, our communities and our lives," Pearson said.

"Employees received a letter in the mail saying they want all employees to take their personal belongings, pictures of their families, all the tools they use to work at Crystal Sugar out by July 31st," union representative John Riskey said.

Not knowing if union workers' jobs will be there the next day, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) has filed federal labor charges against American Sugar for unfair labor practices.

A rep for American Crystal Sugar wouldn't go into much detail about those allegations.

"American Crystal is still hopeful we're able to reach an agreement, but as a responsible business, American Crystal has to be prepared for all possible outcomes," Crystal representative Jeff Schweitzer said.

Riskey says the the BCTGM has met with American Crystal 11 times to discuss the nearly 40 pages of language changes added to their current contracts. Those changes take away day-to-day job stability.

Locking out the locals means the company will bring in outsiders.

"To take our places and push out the people who have given their lives to the company. That money that is given to those people who come in and do that work, it's not going to stay in the community, it's not going to pay the taxes we do," Riskey said.

The union points to big increases in what are already six-figure salaries for top Crystal managers as a sign that the company is making money.

"Right now, what they have on the table, they got their hand in our back pockets and they're looking to take money away from us," Riskey said.

But the company still hopes to avoid a lockout.

"It's going to take some hard work at the negotiating table," Schweitzer said.

"They want to strip us of our rights. They are not going to the table to negotiate a fair contract," Riskey said.

Both sides are preparing for another negotiation.

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