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AFL-CIO launches campaign for Crystal Sugar workers

American Crystal Sugar

ST. PAUL -- The national AFL-CIO labor federation today announced it will add its support, and money, to union members locked out from American Crystal Sugar Co. for nearly a year.

In a brief St. Paul visit, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka would not give specifics, but said the campaign will both provide aid to locked out workers and bring pressure on the company to settle the labor dispute.

Trumka promised to give union members who worked at five Red River Valley plants, as well as one in Iowa and one near the Twin Cities, $25,000. He said more is to come.

He also hinted that the campaign could involve a boycott of American Crystal Sugar products and lobbying against federal legislation supported by the company, perhaps including a farm bill that maintains subsidies for sugar growers.

"I admire the courage of ... workers to stand up against this kind of greed," Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO has 12 million members nationwide, and Trumka said they all would get the message about Crystal.

Company officials have said several times that they have made their final contract offer.

"We have a big crop that we're getting ready to harvest and we are very happy with the replacement employees we have in place," Crystal spokesman Brian Ingulsrud said. "They're excited about being ready to process the big crop we think we have coming. We're very happy with the job they've done so far and are very excited about the training they've been able to do this summer. We are looking forward to doing the work we have with the work force we have in place."

American Crystal locked out 1,300 union employees in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa last Aug. 1.

Since then, union workers have rejected the company's contract proposal three times, citing problems with its job security and seniority provisions. The company says it has made a good offer with major wage and benefit increases.

Moorhead-based American Crystal is the country's largest sugar beet processor.