American Crystal Sugar makes final contract offer to workersby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton met Friday with executives of American Crystal Sugar and union leaders, hoping to help them reach a new contract.
The company, based in Moorhead, Minn., has offered workers a new five-year deal, and has set a deadline of midnight Sunday for workers to accept it. If they don't, the company says it will lock out its workers.
Dayton said he encouraged both sides to resolve the labor dispute quickly.
"I know how important the sugar beet industry and this company are to this region and the farmers, growers, workers -- every business on main street that depends on people having money in their pockets to buy goods and services," said Dayton.
Dayton expressed concern that a potential lockout of workers could lead to a "volatile situation" with clashes between locked out union members and replacement workers.
American Crystal Sugar says it has made its final contract offer to its 1,300 union employees. Workers are scheduled to vote on the deal Saturday.
The final offer includes an 8 percent pay increase the first year, including a $2,000 signing bonus. Another 9 percent pay increase is spread over the remaining four years of the contract.
The company also modified language regarding hiring of subcontract workers, which union officials had called a key concern.
Union negotiator Mark Froemke calls the wage offer very fair. But he says higher costs for benefits would offset the pay raise.
"So even though you're making more on your check, actually you're making less because of the cost of health care," said Froemke.
Union leaders are making no recommendation to workers as to how they should vote on the final offer.
American Crystal says if a contract deal is not approved by midnight Sunday, union workers at its five sugar beet processing plants will be locked on starting Monday morning.
But American Crystal Vice President Brian Ingulsrud says he doesn't expect a lockout.
"The bottom line is we think we've presented a very attractive offer and we're hopeful the union members will ratify it," he said.