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Is 'best and final' offer in fact the 'last'?

The labor union for American Crystal Sugar Co. votes May 18 whether to accept a "best and final" offer from the company for a multi-year labor contract.

The farmer-owned cooperative with five factories in the Red River Valley is negotiating with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union over a contract to replace the one that ends July 31, 2017. The contract covers about 1,200 workers. A failed negotiation ended in a union lockout in 2011 that lasted two years.

American Crystal posted its "best and final" offer on a website on the talks on May 12, after eight days of negotiations. The proposal is a five-year deal concluding July 31, 2022. It includes annual 3 percent pay raises in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and then a 2.75 percent increase in 2021. It includes a $1.25 increase in the pension in the first year of the new contract and a $10,000 lump sum death benefit.

Signing bonus

The contract includes a $2,250 per employee signing bonus if the agreement is in place by May 22, 2017. This is up from the $2,000 bonus from earlier agreements. If approved, the bonus is for year-round employees employed or those on lay-off status as of May 22, and those who continue to be employed at the start off the 2017-2018 processing campaign. The bonus will be paid out by Aug. 24, 2017. It doesn't apply to seasonal harvest employees and temporary employees.

The company proposes to reserve the right to assign work in order to avoid overtime. It will assign overtime to "the most senior individual meeting the requirements" needed. Other elements of the master agreement will go unchanged.

John Riskey, president of the East Grand Forks, Minn., BCTM local and a key spokesman for the union, told Agweek the vote will take place in different shifts from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. across the company's seven locations. He said it will probably be midnight Thursday before a result is known.

Last or final?

Riskey said the union did not hold any special informational meetings on it, in part because it's difficult to get everyone together for meetings when they work on different shifts.

"If it doesn't pass, we've got two dates set up in June to meet and eight days in July," Riskey volunteered, in an interview on May 17.

Asked how Riskey expects to continue negotiating after Crystal offered its "last" offer, he corrected the reporter. "No, they said 'final' offer," Riskey said, explaining that's not the same as the "last" offer — at least in his mind. "Usually, they say 'last AND final' when the true final offer is made," Riskey explained.

"There's distinction between 'final' or 'last and final,'" says Lisa Borgen, American Crystal's vice president for administration, "The words speak for themselves. Final is final."

Borgen earlier wrote that the union's "formal proposal would increase compensation by $22 million over a four year term of the contract, a 34.5 percent increase," and that on May 11 the two parties were still "very far apart" in their proposals.

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