The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, October 29, 2011

American Crystal Sugar lockout

‘Without better contract,
we’ll continue fighting’

1,300 battle bosses’ union-busting campaign

Militant/David Rosenfeld
Workers at Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Des Moines, Iowa, raised $1,383 at plant gate collections October 11-12 for workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar in Upper Midwest.

BY NATALIE MORRISON
MOORHEAD, Minn.—Locked out members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union maintain around-the-clock pickets here outside the gates of American Crystal Sugar, but especially at the two shift changes when scabs are brought in to maintain production.

“In the past, the company would see what gate we are at and switch to the gate to where we didn’t have pickets, so now we make sure we’re are at all the gates,” Brad Knapper, one of 1,300 workers locked out by American Crystal since August 1, told the Militant.

American Crystal bosses imposed a lockout after union members rejected by 96 percent the company’s concession contract demands. The workers affected are employed at plants in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota and in two smaller plants in southern Minnesota and Iowa.

“If we don’t get a fair contract we are going to keep fighting,” Richard Larson, who is locked out at the American Crystal plant in East Grand Forks, said in a phone interview. He was referring to the resumption of negotiations October 24. “We want the language in the contract about outsourcing out. If we don’t stop it now it will just get worse the next contract.”

In addition to concessions in wages and health benefits, the company’s contract offer included stipulations that would allow bosses to increasingly contract out union jobs and thereby weaken the union.

American Crystal hired a scab-herding agency, Strom Engineering, to replace the union workers during the lockout, which the bosses appear to have planned far in advance. For months leading up to the contract vote, the company brought in future replacement workers to “shadow” union workers in the plants. “Tens of millions of dollars have been spent so far and tens of millions more will have to be spent to maintain the lockout,” pointed out John Rausch, one of the pickets here.

Preparing for a possibility of a longer struggle, the union has organized a hardship committee of two workers from each plant. Tami Knapper, a union volunteer and wife of Brad Knapper, said the committee uses money donated to the solidarity fund to make sure “locked-out workers can continue to make their mortgage payments, their car payments and other bills.”

Tens of thousands have been donated from unions, individual workers and others. Members of the United Steelworkers raised $1,383 outside the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Des Moines, Iowa, October 11-12 by asking workers to back their union brothers and sisters standing up to American Crystal.

Union teachers here as well as in Crookston and East Grand Forks have been organizing weekly food donations. Tami Knapper said that most of this food goes to the locked-out workers in North Dakota who have been denied unemployment compensation by the state government.

“Thank you to everyone who helped make our food drives and deliveries of all the food and goods collected for our locked-out brothers and sisters at the North Dakota factories,” wrote Debra Kostrzewski from Argyle October 22 in the opinion section of Inforum, the daily newspaper in the Fargo-Moorhead area. “We and they cannot express the gratitude felt for those gestures. The financial support we have received is amazing. The personal donations, change collected by children and checks received from our union brothers and sisters of different national and international unions all across the nation is phenomenal.”

Donations to the sugar workers can be sent to BCTGM Local 167G, 100 N 3rd, Suite 50, Grand Forks, ND 58203. Write checks to BCTGM 167G with “2011 BCTGM lockout” in the memo line.

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