MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — About 1,300 union workers at seven American Crystal Sugar plants found themselves locked out of their jobs Monday, sitting outside company gates as a contract battle centered mostly on health care benefits and job security continued.

Workers were locked out of facilities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa in the company’s first labor impasse in 30 years. The union’s contract expired at midnight Sunday after workers overwhelmingly rejected what the company called its final offer.

Replacement workers were on the job, although the company is currently in off-peak mode and not processing beets.

“It’s not fun to be locked out,” said Mike Haley, 52, a company mechanic who was holding a “No Lock Out” sign Monday outside the Moorhead plant.

The largest beet sugar processor in the U.S. had offered a 17 percent pay increase over five years during negotiations that began May 6, but workers were upset about provisions covering job security and health care costs. Although American Crystal accounts for 38 percent of the country’s production of sugar from beets and 15 percent overall, the company said it doesn’t believe the lockout will affect sugar production or the industry outlook.

“We don’t intend to miss a beat,” said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president for administration.

The union disagreed that employees were easily replaceable.

“The jobs we do, it’s not rocket science, nor are we brain surgeons,” union representative Mark Froemke said Monday. “But the jobs we do in the factory are very skillful jobs. I just don’t believe they are going to be able to run factories with transient workers who have never been in a sugar factory.”

The company has plants in East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Crookston and Chaska, Minn., and in Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D. and Mason City, Iowa. Replacement workers arrived before dawn Monday. Officials were specific to describe the new workers as temporary and said there were a few hundred of them on the job, but refused to provide further details.

The last negotiations came in in 2004, when the union approved a contract that raised salaries by 2 percent and locked in health care costs for the 7-year life of the pact.

Union officials in Moorhead said they will have members stationed at six gates, 24 hours a day. A couple of workers sat at each gate Monday afternoon, holding signs and waving at people driving by on a nearby street.

“Hang in there, guys. I hope you make it,” yelled one man from his pickup truck.

Law enforcement reported no arrests and Moorhead city workers on Monday afternoon took down parking barricades placed to keep traffic from backing up in front of the plant. Union officials called the protest “informational picketing” and promised it would be peaceful.

Brad Byklum, 60, a 35-year employee who was seated in front of a sign marked “Sugar Loading Gate,” said relations between workers and management has never been worse.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “I think the public has only heard the company’s side of the story.”

Union officials said its workers earn between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, without overtime. Ingulsrud said the average wage is $50,000 a year, or $75,000 including benefits.

Some of the highest-paid workers at the plant are electronic control technicians, who operate the factory from multiple computer screens. Other workers include with skilled welders, mechanics, boiler operators, pay loader operators and warehouse workers. Company officials said the plant needs “a very large contingent” of maintenance workers to keep the factory operating when it goes around-the-clock for about 250 days.

Sugar beet processing generally begins at the end of August each year and is wrapped up in May. The plant is currently in its so-called inner campaign, when workers spend most of their time retooling and replacing equipment.

Ingulsrud said the company is “shocked and surprised” that employees rejected the deal.

“We offered what we thought was a terrific contract,” he said. “Where do we go from here? I’m not sure.”

Froemke said employees are upset about language in the contract on job security, as well as increased costs in health care and short term disability.

“This is a brutal contract,” he said. “This is the destruction of 70 years of negotiations.”

Ingulsrud said workers are being asked to pay more for health care, but claims it’s a better plan than most. He highlighted the 17 percent increase in pay over the five-year span of the contract, and a clause that would not allow the company to hire subcontractors if it meant the loss of any union employee’s job.

“We went back and modified the language that caused them concern,” Ingulsrud said.

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

Comments (63)
  1. UNION NEEDED says:

    Make them move their company to Mexico instead of bringing them in to work!!!!! they think that will be cheap? Workers here must stay strong together and not let the Big Dogs scare us, UNIION is needed, think what the working conditions would be there without UNION.

    1. me says:

      Yeah, because Unions did a great job with the NWA mechanics.

      1. Union Thug says:

        Actually, 8% of the mechanics were weak and crossed their own line.

        Of course, all the cliche’ anti-worker and anti-union posters come out of the woodwork…

    2. Michael says:

      I don’t know what to believe about unions. I agree that they are good to protect workers saftey on the job and other things like that, but the push for wages and benifits that yes are good seem to cause stikes. I used to work for Whirpool in Saint Paul. They threatened if the union pushed any harder they would leave and they did. That was way back in the late 70’s. Things have changed since but still, I wouild rather have a job than no job despite how lousy the company is treating workers… but then again that aint right either. I don’t know what to believe about unions.

    3. weird argument says:

      Funny, the people at corporate are saying the same thing about your union “Big Dogs.”

    4. ez says:

      What part of from around the country sounds like mexico to you?

    5. lee says:


      1. Clara says:


        That would mean I would have to fire myself. I am an independant self employed worker that has to actually work to make a living.

        1. The Architect says:

          Mary Kay doesn’t count as a job, dear.

          1. Clara says:

            Good one Computer nerd!

            1. The Architect says:

              Or maybe you’re an independent consultant for an Intimate Pleasures gig. You go around doing sex toy shows at girls’ houses?

              Pampered chef maybe?

              1. jordanj says:

                How sexist! I thought you were above those kinds of comments.

  2. Esther says:

    Union Needed,

    Maybe you don’t know the story here. These people were offered a 17% pay increase over 5 years, plus family insurance for $850.00 a year! The base salary is $20.00/hr but with overtime people are making $50,000/yr!

    These people are being done in by their union and need to realize it soon!
    The company won’t need to go to Mexico to find more workers, there are plenty of them right here in Minnesota! This is just another example of unions NOT looking out for the best interest of their members!

    I hope they learn their lesson, and Crystal is able to rehire all new employees in a weeks time. I know plenty of people who would jump at the chance to make that much money in this economy!

    1. Engineer says:

      O.K, I’ll bite. First of all, I am a union member, but I wouldn’t say pro-union, just happen to have a job doing what I love and it’s a job that’s in union jurisdiction. Anyways, we just settled a 3 yr. contract 0%, 1%, 2% and I currently pay $260 a month for family insurance with a $1,000 deductable. Make $65,000 with no overtime. I think the people at the sugar plant are complete morons, they should be ousted. But I’ll tell you what, I would be willing to bet they were arm-twisted or coached by the union reps to vote no. At my workplace, the non-contract got a 2%raise last year, 2.5% this year and who knows how much next year. Again, am not pro-union, but do agree that alot of unions get a bad wrap for GREED!!! MNA nurses union is the worst!

      1. sad but true says:

        Pay raise to the worker 100% of the time! No matter if union or not. Good point!

        1. sad but true says:

          Sorry, reply was intended for Engineers question further down….a must read!

      2. Dave Cyril says:

        So that part in the contract that said that Crystal could hire non-union people to replace them at will had nothing to do with them voting it down. What does a skilled wielder make? About $50-$75 a year. They are paying for their insurance. Nurses, OK lets look at a nurses work load over the last 15 years. They are taking care of almost twice as many people. Doing 2x the work with cost of living increases. Yes, there is greed involved, but it’s not from the TAX PAYING Americans.

    2. lee says:

      THY will not make that with out the union………..

  3. Jay says:

    From everything Ive been regarding wages to come in the not so distant future, you that make a living wage best hang onto your jobs, and be thankfulyouve got one! If you havent put money away for very rainy days ahead, youd better start. The day IS coming when maximum wages for the common worker will be $10hr., and the only people to have fulltime work will be those most important to the operations of the companies. The only thing garanteed in life is change, and were seeing that today. Unions will be broken! Your glory days are over. Your demands have done nothing but raise the prices of necessities, provide poor workmanship and a lack of quality. AND, you think you have a right to demand more money and benefits? Too many of us think NOT!

    1. easyrider says:

      You seem happy to see the middle class disappear. Poor sales decisions, mismanagement by those who have little understanding of the product and what it takes to make it are responsible for today’s lack of quality. History is full of class warfare and that makes you happy. The golden years are long gone, long live the King!

    2. UNION PROUD says:

      Have you ever worked at a union job? If you did you would be talking different. Everybody thinks that “union people ” get large wages. Just a fact you get what you bargin for. Some us”union people” go through the step process to get to our max pay scale. IF we did not have a union where I work we would have all been replaced by people who don’t understand our jobs. We all would be making a bit less than we have right now. (Min wage) we have had a wage freeze for the past three years but insurance still goes up. Price of food goes up cost of just living keeps going up. See where this is going??How about the price of gas?? There is such a stero-type about “union people” Glad I am still union proud after 30 + years.
      Regarding Crystal Sugar we don’t know all the facts of there contract Sounds good about the wages But there again job security is something I guess they feel very strong about.

    3. jordanj says:

      No, the only guarantee of a good salary and benefits are if you work for the Government . Congress members have a cash cow. It’s time to demand cuts at that level and health care to match the one they voted on for the rest of us peons. No extra for them.

    4. Dave Cyril says:

      Our demands have given you a safe work place, job security, 8 hour days, weekends and holidays off. You’re welcome. The price of necessities have been driven up by A.L.E.C. and the GOP. I have only seen poor workmanship and lack of quality come from non-union shops.

  4. Sharina says:

    850.00 a year for benefits? When can I start? I pay that in 2 months and still get medical bills in the mail.

  5. Sam I am says:

    I pay close to 800 a month in insurance a month for my family plus have a 3800 deductible.

    I will gladly take that job.

    Hey Union Workers, you may have just shot yourself in the foot. With the unemployment rate, I can imagine there will be LOTS of people looking for a job.

  6. sally says:


  7. Mark says:

    We soon won’t need any unions at all! When all of the jobs have been sent overseas, and all of the anti-union folks who scream “replace the strikers” will also be without any jobs!

    Why do we continue to berate the worker attempting to make a fair living with some modest comforts, but no complains about the exhorbitant wages that the CEO’s and bosses make?

    Face facts people! If you ain’t making over $ 1,000,000 dollars a year, you ain’t making it!

    WE all need to get together, union and non-union, to demand a return of a chance! A return to the American Dream! A return of a strong, and vibrant middle-class!

    Oh and by the way, the company was asking for HUGE wage and benefit concessions! These workers are NOT the greedy ones! It is the CEO’s of AmCrys that are not negotiating in good faith on a new agreement!

    1. weird argument says:

      Then you shouldn’t have voted to have all your chances taken away.

  8. Jill says:

    Where are they taking applications for replacement workers?

  9. reality check says:

    They can re apply for their old jobs back at a nice pay cut and start as a day one employee! i guess they should have taken the sweetheart deal they had been offered almost 50k a year is a very handsome factory worker pay for rural America.

    see: greedy jerks

    1. Yeah... says:

      Re-applying for your own job back is a corporate trick to weed out the peeps they don’t want and to keep the peeps they do want for lower wages. People for been around for 50 years getting a raise every year are prime for this sort of treatment unfortunately. Loyalty means nothing anymore.

    2. The Architect says:

      You think 50k is a good income? I have to laugh.

      1. jordanj says:

        That’s better than most Americans are making…Walgreen’s and CVS, national employers, pay at start $8.25 or less per hour with no future raise in sight and no benefits. We wonder why welfare looks so promising. With free health care, welfare recipients receive far more. Does it pay to work? Most jobs now offered are by temp services and what can you earn? Less than 50 for sure.

        1. The Architect says:

          If that’s what you make, it’s because you failed to get yourself trained to do anything else.

          You’re little more than a white illegal immigrant with no skills, education, or training.

          I have ZERO sympathy for someone working for $8.25 and complaining about it, when that was the job they applied for and is probably the only job they’re qualified for.

          1. jordanj says:

            Oh come one, just a little compassion for your fellow Americans.

            1. The Architect says:

              I’m very polite to service workers, and I tip well. Doesn’t that count? I even give a cheery “Good Morning!” to our security guy outside when I get to work in the morning.

  10. Swamp Fox says:

    Why haven’t we heard the FULL story about what’s happening? That’s just plain and simple Journalism 101. Whatever is happening needs to be brought out into the open otherwise another economic calamity may be brewing. WCCO is fumbling on this story. What are all the pertinent facts? You can’t tweet this story!!!

  11. Nica says:

    I read another article that said they were offered 13% pay increase over 5 years. However, what the union president said is, any raise is “meaningless if our health care costs increase even more, or if management can eliminate our jobs and replace us at will,” It sounds like they don’t have issues with the pay but are worried about other things. It sounds like the company might have had language in the contract that changes major parts of the contract other than pay.

    1. Claire says:

      Newsflash!!!!! Health insurance has been going up over 20% per year for the last 5 years. Dont expect your wages to keep up. Like everyone else take a higher deductible.
      Anybody can be replaced at any time. How hard are you going to work if you know you cant be fired?

      1. Dave says:

        No…no it hasn’t been going up 20% for 5 years. In FACT the portion of health insurance that the memberpays in MN has been increasing at a decreasing rate the last several years. 13.5% from 2006 to 2007, 9.4% from 2007 to 2008, 7.3% from 2008 to 2009, and I think it was in the mid 6% range from 2009 – 2010. Overall premium has been doing the same. All outpace inflation and wage increases of course. Yes, the deductibles and coinsurance are getting higher, but if you live a healthy lifestyle, that will never effect you like premiums will. Just thought I would point out facts for all you lefties.

        1. Engineer says:

          At my place of employment. Monthly cost out of my pocket went from $214 per month for family insurance to $260 per month, that 21.5% increase and yearly deductible went from $800 to $1000 per year, that’s a 25% increase. Your formulas are not valid for all workers.

          Just a quick question for all you union bashers and again, i’m not pro-union, but I am a union member. So here it is: Would you rather give a union worker making $20 per hr a 17% raise over 5 years or give LaQuisha all her state welfare benifits and get no productivity out of her at all?

  12. American made says:

    What amazes me is that these workers will do whatever their Union tells them even at the risk of losing their jobs. With the economy the way it is there is no way in heck that I would even think about going on strike knowing that I could be replaced in a heart beat and it would be my own darn fault.

    1. at-will employee says:

      That’s what I never understood about Unions… seems you pay a due to have all your free-thinking rights taken away. Union say, “GO STAND OUTSIDE!” worker go. Union say, “YOU NOT SMART ENOUGH TO THINK FOR YOUR SELF!” worker stop thinking.

      I don’t think I could go union, I like to make my own decisions about what’s right for me.

    2. Unions are the evil in America says:

      I remember one guy who when I asked who he was going to vote for in the presidential election said Edwards. I said why. He said because the union endorse him, Lol They can’t think for themselves. What a bunch of illiterate union workers I imagine the union tells them how to wipe there a ss too.

    3. jordanj says:

      During the last Presidential election, I asked a Union worker who he was voting for and he said, ” whoever my Union tells me to”. He went on to explain that the Union would know which candidate would help him keep his job. Guess what, he voted for Obama and he is laid off. He’s a Local 10, commercial sheet metal worker.

  13. Realist says:

    September 2012…I sure hope it happens!

  14. Mark From Minnesota Tax Waste says:

    Lock them out!! The Unions are killing us!! I’m sorry, they will stick up for the illegals if they want to form one or join one! Nothing but bums, take America back!!

  15. FoolsGold says:

    I posted it yesterday, I hope every person that voted no, never gets to return, If these people can’t see this isn’t the 70’s when unions mattered then they don’t deserve jobs, You work in a factory, do you think your skilled labor? You can be replaced and will be, $20 an hour and $75 a month for health care, only a true fool doesn’t think this is good money for a non degree occupation. My employer almost went union 9 years ago, but after a few months we realized vote no was the only option, and i thank god everyday, we would have been replaced for cheaper labor, il take my $22 an hour with full med and dental, if you can’t make ends meet making nearly 50k, then you’re an idiot, too many people over finance3 beyond their needs and it ruins them in the end.

    1. The Architect says:

      I’m not an idiot, and I could NEVER make ends meet for my family on 50 grand per year. There is no WAY I could. And that’s not being over-extended either. I don’t even own a credit card, and the only loans I have are for my SUV, and my mortgage.

      I wouldn’t even get out of bed for $22/hour because I would be losing money by the time I got there in the morning.

      1. Carl says:

        We are all waiting Architect. Please tell us how much you make, how great you are and what a waste of space everyone else is. You are such a putz.

        1. The Architect says:

          I’ll skip it and let you do it for me, Carl.

          Anytime you’re ready, amigo.

          1. Mr Arch says:

            Mr Architect used to be Les Johnson, and before that Eastside Evil, he routinely changes his name, another sign of his sad state of life. Post a comment someday on non working hours lol, you can’t you don’t have a home computer and internet.

      2. Mr. Arch says:

        Yes Mr Archi-nothing you’re an idiot, not one person here respects you, you claim to have such fortune but you only post at work, you don’t even own a computer. Lol you drive an suv, I drive a GT with 40k on it and I own it, and i have a 4bedroom home, and i make 50k a year, you are a telemarketer at best, it’s really is a sad story your life has become.

  16. lee says:

    what the hell are you doing to get 22 an hour tell me.

    1. The Architect says:

      Probably popping popcorn at the movie theater. Or maybe he’s the ticket tearer guy.

  17. seniorjose says:

    let it all go to Mexico

  18. Over paid Id iots says:

    They are all over paid with that kind of salaries. All they do is sit on there A ss I know I worked there

    1. The Architect says:

      So we can assume that 45-50k per year is far more than what you get? Why didn’t you go to college if you’re jealous people make more than you?

      You don’t think it’s your own fault that you think 50 grand is some great salary?

  19. Swamp Fox says:

    Sounds like a lot of jealous unemployed/underemployed folks out there commenting here on this thread. Wise up folks read the whole story-it isn’t about wages but rising health care and other benefit costs. Wish I had one of those supposed ‘overpaid’ union jobs. I could at least support my family and pay some bills. Too bad medical bills are bankrupting us all!

    1. Swamp Fox says:

      p.s.: Sorry folks, I meant the supposed jealous working or not underemployed working people who are whining about not having a union wage.

  20. Alanna Honey says:

    Say, you got a nice blog post. Much obliged.

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