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American Crystal Sugar Workers Reject Contract

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) – Union workers at American Crystal Sugar Co. on Saturday overwhelmingly rejected the company’s final offer for a new five-year contract.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported that more than 1,200 — or about 97 percent — of the union members voted on whether to accept the offer or risk a lockout at the company’s five sugar beet processing plants. Union representative Mark Froemke said of those, 96 percent rejected the contract.

The current contract expires Monday. American Crystal had said if there was no agreement by midnight Sunday, union workers would be locked out Monday morning.

Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal’s vice president for administration and company negotiator for the talks, told the Forum he was “very surprised by the result and disappointed.”

He said late Saturday there were no plans to negotiate any further.

Froemke and union members didn’t feel the offer addressed such key issues as health care benefits and language in the proposal that dealt with their job protection and seniority.

The negotiations are now “totally in the hands” of the company, Froemke told the newspaper, adding that the union was prepared to meet as early as Sunday morning.

The offer given to union negotiators Thursday night included an 8 percent pay increase the first year, including a $2,000 signing bonus. Another 9 percent pay increase would be spread over the remaining four years of the contract for a total of 17 percent over five years. Pension fund payments also would increase.

The company also modified language on the hiring of subcontract workers, which had been a key concern of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union. The new language would prevent American Crystal from subcontracting work now being done by union employees if that would result in layoffs.

The company’s union workers make about $40,000 on average, according to the union, but the company says they average $50,000 with overtime. The company’s offer would put union workers under its corporate health plan, not a separate union plan. So union workers, who currently pay no premiums, would pay more than $850 a year for family coverage.

American Crystal is the largest beet sugar producer in the U.S. It’s a cooperative owned by about 3,000 shareholders who raise 500,000 acres of sugar beets in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota. It has facilities in both states.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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