FARGO, N.D. (AP) — American Crystal Sugar Co. and its locked-out union workers headed back to the negotiating table Monday, but refused to talk about the results.

A federal mediation service in Minneapolis said talks between the company and the union representing about 1,300 workers would resume, but didn’t disclose the place and time. Workers have been locked out since Aug. 1.

Representatives from both sides did not return repeated phone calls Monday from The Associated Press.

North Dakota state Sen. Tim Mathern, who last week wrote a letter to company and union officials urging a settlement, said he views the silence as a good thing.

“If that’s the way they’re responding, I think that means they are actually working on an agreement,” Mathern said. “It’s right down to the wire in terms of wording, I’m sure, and now is not the time to talk publicly.”

American Crystal’s last offer was a 17 percent pay increase over five years, but workers rejected it over job security provisions, health care costs and language in the contract they say will hurt workers in future years.

The contract dispute involves workers at sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. The factories have been running with replacement workers hired by a Minnetonka, Minn., firm.

Mathern told company president David Berg and union president John Riskey that the lockout has gone on too long and people are suffering.

“People are applying for welfare, applying for Medicaid, applying for food stamps,” Mathern said Monday. “They can’t feed their families.”

The lockout is the first labor impasse in 30 years at American Crystal, a cooperative that accounts for 38 percent of the nation’s sugar from beets and 15 percent of overall sugar production.

It’s the second time the two sides have met since the lockout. Mark Froemke, a union representative, said negotiators representing workers planned to bring new proposals to the table, but refused to outline the changes.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (8)
  1. Cut their benefits says:

    Fire all the Union workers and hire someone who wants to work. Money will be saved

    1. Beavis says:

      Fire all the scab lover bloggers!

  2. Sue J says:

    The Unions sold out the workers!!

  3. dan says:

    Union workers are applying for Welfare and Food Stamps? I guess they should have agreed to a 17% pay increase! I hope the Company holds strong and reduces the pay increase to 0% and cut benefits. Want a job, accept our terms. Enough with the Union Thugs!

  4. Mark says:

    To all who speak disparingly about labor unions, re-read the story! The union is stating that certain language, health care and seniority were the sticking points.

    How good is a pay raise when you can quickly lose your job without just-cause? I know for you non-union workers, you do not have the same rights as those individuals in a union, but surely you wouldn’t sell yourself out for money, or would you?

    I stand with ALL union workers who are able to increase their standards of living, because their increases have a direct effect on ALL others, union and non-union alike!

    Long live the labor movement! True democracy in the workplace!

    1. ccat says:

      The company is not going to fire someone without just-cause…if a worker isn’t performing up to the company’s standards….the worker is told to shape up…or ship out…it shouldn’t matter if the worker is union or not. I bet worker performance will improve dramatically when the Union is not there to protect unproductive workers. Let true Democracy reign in the company…

      1. Mark says:

        More like a dictatorship. As a non-union member of a company, you do not have any rights, other than those given by the company. One need look no further than Wal-mart and then many lawsuits for making workers labor “off the clock”.

        if that’s democracy, give me the union any day of the week.

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