Locked-out workers deliver message at bank meeting
5 April 2012
FARGO, North Dakota - Dozens of locked out American Crystal Sugar employees and their allies rallied outside CoBank's North Dakota Customer Meeting in Fargo Wednesday.
Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union who have been locked out for more than eight months by American Crystal Sugar questioned CoBank's investment strategy with Crystal Sugar. CoBank currently provides more than $370 million in multiple lines of credit to the company. With costs increasing and productivity decreasing at Crystal Sugar since the lockout began more than eight months ago, workers suggested CoBank's investment in Crystal Sugar is risky.
"CoBank customers need to be aware of the actions their bank is taking. Their investments could be in jeopardy because Crystal Sugar executives are mismanaging the company," said long-time Crystal Sugar employee, Tony St. Michel.
He went on to say that CoBank CEO Robert Engel should be held accountable for the bank's actions.
BCTGM members and supporters also shared their concerns about the CoBank - Crystal Sugar relationship with CoBank meeting participants during the morning coffee break. They called on CoBank to follow its own stated mission and values. These values include acting as a model corporate citizen and considering community needs in all of the company's decisions. Furthermore, CoBank says it puts the needs of the Farm Credit System, which is to provide dependable credit to American farmers and to serve rural America, before that of any group of individuals.
Workers believe CoBank has disregarded the needs of the communities in the Red River Valley by maintaining its investment in Crystal Sugar throughout the lockout. Moreover, CoBank has put the needs of Crystal Sugar management ahead of the needs of Crystal Sugar shareholders, many of whom are farmers.
"We are here today because CoBank is complicit in this lockout," said Nathan Rahm, a locked out worker from Hillsboro, N.D. "Crystal Sugar management has told shareholders that they planned this lockout for a long time, and that it would cost them a lot of money. Management sees gutting our contract and killing our communities as an investment in their future, in lining their own pockets. CoBank, by investing in Crystal Sugar, is supporting this lockout and the devastation it's causing in our communities up and down the Valley."
More than 1,300 workers have been locked out of American Crystal Sugar facilities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa since Aug. 1. Crystal Sugar is the nation's largest producer of sugar from beets.