DRAYTON, N.D.-American Crystal Sugar is short by more than 30 workers in its Drayton factory and 100 workers across its Red River Valley factories.

Union leaders say these vacancies are due in part to the 2011 lockout.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The Drayton factory has 36 openings, according to Lisa Borgen, vice president of administration for American Crystal Sugar and more than 100 openings throughout the Red River Valley.

"About one third of the company's openings are in Drayton," said Borgen.

To fill vacancies, American Crystal has raised wages for entry-level factory workers in Drayton to about $18 an hour.

In other factories, this position is paid a little more than $16 an hour.

Although this has an impact on the company and its employees, Borgen said this shortage of workers will not affect the company's sugar production or consumers.

The new policy of bumping up wages in the Drayton factory started on Oct. 15, Borgen said. Already several people who had applied to one of the other factories in the Red River Valley transferred to Drayton.

"Time will tell, but we think this will help," Borgen said.

American Crystal's contract with the union mandates workers be considered for a yearly raise. American Crystal can pay the entry-level workers in Drayton more than in other factories because of this part of the contract.

The higher wage offered is the "end-of-contract wage," Borgen said. Those hired at the higher wage won't be eligible for a raise until a new contract is negotiated in 2022.

Union leaders say that this shortage is due in part to or exacerbated by the August 2011 lockout, when more than 1,000 workers were locked out of their jobs after the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union rejected a contract offer.

The company lost about 650 employees before the union approved a new contract.

"I didn't think they'd still be paying for the lockout now," said local union president John Riskey.

"They used to have a dedicated workforce, but they lost all those people (during the lockout) and have been fighting to get people ever since."

Drayton, about 48 miles north of Grand Forks, is different from some of the other ACS factories because it is a more remote location.

Riskey said he was told in a meeting with union workers from the Drayton factory last week that American Crystal has brought in outside contract workers to fill the positions they have open.

The union workers at the factory aren't allowed to work more than seven days in a row or overtime, Riskey said.

"They would have to pay them double time because that would put the union guys into overtime," Riskey said.

But the company worries about workers getting "worn out," Borgen said, as more accidents happen when people are tired.

"Whenever you can't fill a shift, someone is having to work overtime or fill two people's jobs," Borgen said. "It takes a real toll on people who are working in the plants."

And, Borgen said, the company would rather fill those vacancies with its own people, but to complete the work that needed to be done, ACS had to hire local contractors.

Workforce Center Manager for Job Service North Dakota Dustin Hillebrand said that it is not surprising that the factories would be experiencing these kinds of shortages.

At 2.6 percent, North Dakota has an extremely low unemployment rate-lower than the national rate, which is about 4 percent.

"While it's great that our unemployment is so low, it also puts quite a strain on employers to try and fill these positions when so many are already employed," Hillebrand said.

For example, Grand Forks County has 0.47 people for every open job in the county.

"(This many vacancies) means maybe turning down work for the employer or longer shifts for the employee," Hillebrand said.