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Worker burned seriously at East Grand Forks Crystal plant

A worker was seriously injured last week in an accident in the American Crystal Sugar Co. factory in East Grand Forks, but officials of two companies involved are saying little about it.

Jeff Schweitzer, spokesman for American Crystal based in Moorhead, said because the man is an employee of Strom Engineering Corp. in the Twin Cities, working under contract to American Crystal -- a replacement worker during the lock-out of union members -- the company can't say much about the incident, including whether the man survived.

The man "came into contact with hot liquid and was burned," Schweitzer said Tuesday. He said American Crystal is investigating it.

Greg Greenburg, national safety manager at Strom's headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., declined to comment Tuesday evening, referring a Herald reporter to another company official.

According to East Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Larson, the man was conscious when firefighters arrived the morning of Jan. 29, with the ambulance close behind.

He said there was no fire to fight, and he didn't see the work area where the accident happened as the man had been moved to await emergency crews. "We were more concerned with getting him loaded and moving" to Altru Hospital, Larson said.

Larson declined to talk about the nature or extent of the man's injuries, citing federal health confidentiality laws.

Schweitzer said the East Grand Forks plant continues to operate normally, but would not describe what the accident involved.

Since Aug. 1, 2011, American Crystal has locked out about 1,300 workers who belong to the Bakery Workers union after they rejected the company's proposed five-year contract. Several rounds of negotiations have failed to end the lock out.

Schweitzer said the company has hired about 1,000 "limited duration" employees who are local residents, while retaining some remaining contracted employees through Strom -- mostly from other states -- to replace the locked-out workers. Federal labor law bars a company from permanently replacing locked-out workers.