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Published June 07, 2012, 06:05 AM

American Crystal workers, company ready for talks Friday

As a single mother of two and a four-year employee of American Crystal Sugar’s plant in Hillsboro, N.D., Rochelle Harley never had trouble making ends meet until the company’s lockout put her out of work 10 months ago. Harley and about 100 other workers rallied in front of American Crystal’s headquarters here Wednesday in the final stage of a 200-mile march that began last week.

By: Marino Eccher, Grand Forks Herald

MOORHEAD – As a single mother of two and a four-year employee of American Crystal Sugar’s plant in Hillsboro, N.D., Rochelle Harley never had trouble making ends meet until the company’s lockout put her out of work 10 months ago.

Now, she’s behind on her rent, late on her car payment and had her electricity shut off Tuesday. And like her fellow union workers, she’s admonishing the company to hammer out a deal that ends the hardship.

“Things were going so well when everyone worked together and cooperated,” she said. “This whole company is based on cooperation. It’s called a co-op for a reason.”

Harley and about 100 other workers rallied in front of American Crystal’s headquarters here Wednesday in the final stage of a 200-mile march that began last week.

The message was in line with what the union has been saying for months: When the two sides meet Friday for the first time since February, both have to make concessions to end the lockout.

The company has shown no willingness to budge from its last offer, made last fall. Company officials said shareholders have given them a clear directive to stand pat.

The offer raises pay, but shifts health care costs to employees and makes changes to seniority rules that union leaders say go too far.

John Riskey, a union spokesman, said the union’s proposal Friday will address the company’s concerns, and “is going to be hard for them to turn down.”

He declined to discuss to details ahead of the meeting.

Troy Anderson of West Fargo, N.D., who works in the Hillsboro plant, said workers are hurting all over but still hanging on. Some have lost their cars or even their homes, he said. He himself has drained his life savings.

“We might have lost our jobs and we might have lost a lot of good folks who were forced to retire because of the lockout,” he told a crowd of union workers Tuesday, “but we have gained an unbreakable bond of friendship and loyalty between each other that this valley will never see again.”

Still, he said he can’t wait forever. He makes some money as a blues musician, and helps out at his sister’s lodge, but said he’ll likely look for new full-time work if the lockout drags on past the next beet processing season.

Like other union workers, he’s hopeful that a bountiful beet crop will pressure the company to bring back experienced union workers instead of the current replacement employees.

Mark Froemke, an East Grand Forks worker, said he hopes the company relents Friday, but acknowledged “they’ve pretty much dug their feet in the ground.

“You’ve got to be hopeful, you’ve got to be optimistic, but at the same time, you have to prepare yourself for bad news,” he said.


The Forum and the Herald are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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