Crystal Sugar sends final offer

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. officials say eight days of talks with their union leave the parties "far apart," but that a "best and final" offer has been sent to union leaders.

American Crystal Sugar offices, 101 3rd St. N., Moorhead, Minn. David Samson/Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. - American Crystal Sugar Co. officials say eight days of talks with their union leave the parties "far apart," but that a "best and final" offer has been sent to union leaders.

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 multi-year contract 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.

Lisa Borgen, Crystal vice president of administration, posted a summary of a meeting May 11 on the company's website for the labor talks. Her headline is that the "union walks out of negotiations without notice," and describes the "eighth day of contract negotiations" as ending with a union walkout.

John Riskey, president of the BCTGM local in Grand Forks, reached for reaction, said the "sidebar is not supposed to be revealed publicly - either its contents or the fact of the discussion," Riskey said. "They had no business to tell that. But since they did, they regressed and we did tell them we were done and we weren't going to play games." Regression means moving away from union interests, he said. "People's livelihoods are on the line, as well as the company and the shareholders."

"Both sides exchanged proposals," Borgen wrote, noting the company's "tenth package proposal" had been posted on the website. She said the union's "formal proposal would increase compensation by $22 million over a four year term of the contract, a 34.5 percent increase.


"The parties remained very far apart in their proposals. In an effort to determine if there was a possible road to a settlement, a small group from both sides met in a sidebar discussion," she wrote. "Some good progress was made in narrowing the differences.

"As the Company's representatives to the sidebar were waiting for the Union's chief negotiator, Jethro Head, to return to further discussions, they noticed several members of the Union's negotiating team leaving the hotel," she wrote. "Mr. Head then attempted to leave without talking to the Company's representatives.

"When confronted as to what was happening, Mr. Head said the Union 'was done' and he was leaving. When asked why the Union was leaving without receiving the Company's last offer, Mr. Head said, 'Do what you want. Send it to me.'

"On a number of occasions during the last few days of negotiations, the Company told the Union it hoped to reach a settlement, but if that was not going to be possible, the Company intended to give the Union its best offer by the end of today, May 11, 2017," she wrote.

"Rather than giving the Company the courtesy of hearing the best and final offer, the Union simply walked away from the negotiations without notice. Accordingly, the Company has sent its best and final offer to the Union leaders this afternoon. We will be posting this final offer after the leadership has received it. We remain hopeful that our employees will be allowed to vote on this offer. That decision is up to the BCTGM."

Borgen, reached by Agweek on May 12, declined to comment or immediately say when the last offer will be available. Riskey acknowledged on Friday that the offer had reached him. "We will take it back to the membership." The union leaders are working on specifics about considering the offer.

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