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Published June 21, 2011, 11:00 AM

American Crystal Sugar Co., union negotiating new labor agreement

FARGO, N.D. — American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., is in the midst of labor negotiations with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union to replace a contract that expires July 31.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., is in the midst of labor negotiations with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union to replace a contract that expires July 31.

The expiring contract was a seven-year contract that featured annual 2 percent pay raises, among other things. The contract before that ran for two years.

Still early

A source knowledgeable about the negotiations says there have been opening proposals from the farmer-owned cooperative and from the union, but it is so early in the process that there is nothing newsworthy and too soon to say what is vital for either side.

Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal’s vice president for administration, says the company is optimistic it can reach an agreement that will serve its employees and the company well. An agreement would cover Crystal’s 930 year-round workers, as well as 385 seasonal employees and 50 others that are United Sugars L.L.C. employees. The company has five factories in the Red River Valley as well as the United Sugars storage/liquefying facility in Chaska, Minn., and a storage/transfer station in Mason City, Iowa. Those employees would have to ratify any agreement. It is possible they’d vote on it in late July, but agreements sometimes are extended.

It is unclear how much the current profitability trend for sugar will affect the deal or the term of a contract. It also is unclear how the contract will be affected by other contracts in the industry.

June 3, the BCTGM press release said Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., recently had ratified a two-year agreement. The Local 167G reached a tentative settlement May 27.

John G. Riskey, president and business agent for the union, says workers want to protect their pension plans, maintain affordable health care coverage and receive a fair wage increase, and that the agreement meets all of those expectations. The new contract includes a total 4 percent wage increase, presumably over the two years. The union says the agreement preserved the employees defined benefit pension plan and maintained the current health insurance plan.

Steve Bertelli, BCTGM Region 3 International vice president, says the key in the negotiation was knowing how well the company was performing and how well the industry was doing and asking for terms in line with that.

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