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Sweet or sour proposal?

FARGO, N.D. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. union workers were expected to vote July 30 on a wage, benefit and hiring practice package to avoid a lock-out that would affect 1,300 workers at the company's five factories in the Red River Valley and s...

FARGO, N.D. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. union workers were expected to vote July 30 on a wage, benefit and hiring practice package to avoid a lock-out that would affect 1,300 workers at the company's five factories in the Red River Valley and shipping/storage facilities elsewhere.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers will decide whether to accept a five-year proposal for annual average percentage wage increases of 4, 3, 2, 2 and 2 percent, including a one-time $2,000 "signing bonus" for the first year. The union's negotiating committee will be neutral on the deal, says Mark Froemke, an AFL-CIO of Minnesota negotiating team member.

Brian Ingulsrud, Crystal's vice president for administration, described the increase an accumulated 17 percent over those years. The previous contract has called for 2 percent annual wage increases while top executives have received 6 to 8 percent annual increases for base salaries, and double-digit increases when bonuses are counted. Among other things, the company wants more decision-making on which future workers can be considered year-round, with full benefits.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton was expected in Fargo, N.D., July 29 for private talks with the parties, but, before the union vote, it wasn't clear what his function would be.

Crystal has said it will have a full complement of non-union replacement workers in place for the pre-pile processing campaign, which could begin in mid-August, depending on crop projections from samples pulled in early August.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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