Crystal Employees Alter Lifestyles During Lockout

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The daily protests by union workers outside the American Crystal Sugar plant in Moorhead, Minn., have become sporadic, and nine months into the company-imposed lockout, the only hint of the ongoing contract dispute Monday was a pro-union poster someone had nailed to a wooden stand.


The impasse between American Crystal and the roughly 1,300 union workers it locked out of its sugar beet processing factories in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa on Aug. 1 shows no signs of ending soon. The company has been using replacement workers to operate the plants. Company and union officials met informally in January, but the talks ended with the two sides taking public potshots at one another and no further talks are scheduled.

Union members still firmly believe the company’s contract offers have been unfair and are determined not to cave, but they concede the lengthy impasse has affected all of them and led some members to find work at other companies or in other locales, or retire, or even put off major life decisions.

Nathan Rahm, 30, said he was preparing for a lengthy career at American Crystal, which hadn’t had a labor impasse in 30 years. Before the lockout, he completed a four-month class to solidify his standing as a process technician at its plant in Hillsboro, N.D., about 40 miles north of Fargo, and Rahm said he was planning to buy a home, get married and raise a family in the small community.

Now in his ninth month of unemployment, he said he spends his time travelling to meetings and rallies as a union ambassador, not “putting down roots” as he planned.

“I suppose in actuality there’s nothing stopping me from doing that,” he said of his personal plans. “But it’s really hard when you have so much time and energy invested in what’s going on.”

The lockout has affected Renae and Lynn Fredrickson at a different stage of their lives. The husband-and-wife team has spent a combined 70 years working at American Crystal’s plant in Drayton, which is about 80 miles north of Hillsboro. Now their retirement plans, particularly Lynn’s, are on hold.

“This is the time we would have put the maximum amount into my husband’s 401K,” Renae Fredrickson said. “Instead we’re getting behind. We’re making minimum payments on the credit cards we have and using them for emergency stuff.

“We were just to the point where we thought we were going to see the light and now it feels like I’ve taken 10 steps back.”

Unlike workers based at plants in Minnesota and Iowa, Rahm and the Fredricksons do not receive unemployment benefits because the state of North Dakota doesn’t offer them. Most North Dakota workers are getting $100 a week from the union in strike benefits, about a third as much on average as those with unemployment insurance.

Some Drayton and Hillsboro workers have been forced to sign up for fuel assistance and food stamps, many for the first time in their lives. Renae Fredrickson said she became physically ill at the thought of asking for help to feed her family.

“I went to the food pantry the first time and it was just … oh,” she said. “I’ve always donated. I’ve never had to go there.”

Becki Jacobson, a 30-year employee at the Moorhead plant, said she’s luckier than most because her daughters are grown, she lives alone and has no car, motorcycle or snowmobile payments. She saved some money ahead of the lockout because she believes the company had been planning it for two years.

But the house payments are starting to add up, she said.

“I don’t go out and eat anymore. I don’t go shopping. I window shop rather than buy,” Jacobson said.

The lockout started as many affected workers were nearing retirement age. Rahm estimates 20 to 25 Hillsboro employees have called it quits during the lockout. “A lot of guys decided enough is enough and retired already” in Drayton, Renae Fredrickson said.

An American Crystal Sugar spokesman did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The company said its original offer in July is a good one, citing pay increases of 17 percent over the 5-year contract and increased pension, leave and vacation benefits. The union continues to protest provisions detrimental to seniority and job security.

Ross Perrin, a mechanic at the Moorhead plant and head union steward, said the workers who still are around remain united despite the lengthy lockout.

“We haven’t lost anybody across the lines,” he said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • dan

    The only greed out there is on the part of the Union employees. You were offered a raise and declined. Now you can see the company will run just fine without you. You may want to start looking for a new job.

  • Underwater CBA

    The impacted employees will never make the money back that they lost over the last 9 months. Smooth move union.

    Bet the union fat cat checks never stopped though. They are probably all over Wisconsin trying to recall the Gov.

  • DougT

    Yes – it seems as though the bad guy in this story is the union – thats who caused the employees to “change their lifestyle” – I presume it made them gay? or straight? Transgender???

    The story really does not say …;)

  • Disunion

    Take the money, stop whining and get back to work! If you accepted the higher offer when first presented, you wouldn’t have been sitting around for 9 months not working. Unions have the union as their first priority, not the members of the union. All the non-union workers are sitting pretty, being paid and all haha

  • Capt. Obv.

    Lets not kid ourselves, you will never be brought back to your jobs…End of story

  • CF

    Why don’t you guys get some pointers on the proper way to bring a company to its knees…..check with the air traffic controllers union, or the packing plant union in Austin, MN. I’m sure they’ll tell you where the bear s***s in the buckwheat.

  • Tired of Stupid

    Your union overlord’s fanaticism is what cost you your jobs.

    Blame them.

  • Richard in Minneapolis

    I make it a point NOT to buy Crystal sugar when I am in the grocery store. When they rehire their union workers I will buy their product again. The reason so many of us have the (minimal) benefits we have is due to the sacrifices of union workers.

  • Spanky

    Boo-Hoo. You turned down a 3.4% increase a year for five years? Nice sob story CCO.

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  • Ryguy1980

    I work there now as an equipment operator. Well they have me driving truck, operating excavator, forklift, and other things. Every day I end my shift when I walk out of the building by Gate 4 the union people who are pickiting just sit there and call names. On the morning of the 4th of April, I was walking out with this woman and the people called her a bit c h and a h o r r o r and called me a worthless scab and a bunch of other names. I turned and looked at this nice Black security guard and shook my head and one of the pickiters said “hey scab, that n i g g e r aint going to save you”. The Union has to end and they all have to be thrown in jail for their bs. Well I am good friends with Mr. Berg and it dont sound like they will be hired back because of their attitudes. I carry a gun with me all the time locked and loaded and I will be ready just in case these punk creep fat lazy worthless thug union people get out of hand. Wouldnt be the first time I have used a rifle on someone. I wrote to alot of Journalists at Fox news about this and also wrote to a couple MN Republican Reps and I hope it gets back to these a-holes.

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