Published: 09/09/2011

On August 1, American Crystal Sugar, the largest sugar beet processor in the US (a farmer-owned coop) locked out 1,300 BCTGM members when they refused, after minimal bargaining, to accept the company’s re-draft of the collective agreement.

When negotiations for the renewal of the previous 7-year agreement began on May 6, the company presented proposals to radically overhaul the current agreement, give the company the ability to outsource jobs at will and burden workers with higher health care costs, effectively wiping out any benefits of the company’s wage increase proposal.

Another vicious lockout by an employer in the US

Early on in the “negotiation” process, it became clear that the company’s unacceptable offer was part of a calculated plan to replace union-organized workers by sub-contracted scab labor by provoking a no vote and following through with the threat to lock-out the workforce. This is a new form of union busting which we have already seen practiced by Roquette Frères at its corn-milling plant in Keokuk, in the US state of Iowa, where 240 workers were locked out for 10 months.

Workers reporting for work on August 1 at American Crystal Sugar’s 7 plants in the states of Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota were prevented from entering the plants by security guards, while replacement workers were already on hand – sub-contracted from Strom Engineering, a company notorious for providing scab workers during labor disputes.

According to its website, “Strom has unmatched experience in managing strike-related projects and supplying personnel throughout North America and Europe.” And this is what it has to say about lock-outs: “… particularly in the United States, a lockout occurs when union membership rejects the company’s final offer at negotiations and offers to return to work under the same conditions of employment as existed under the now-expired contract. In such a case, the lockout is designed to pressure the workers into accepting the terms of the company’s last offer.”

BCTGM and its members at American Crystal Sugar did not reject a “final offer”, but rather, the company’s only offer, which they refused to have shoved down their throats. The company began threatening a lock-out early on and had been preparing for it for a long time. They had absolutely no intention of negotiating a new agreement in good faith.

BCTGM has set up a website with news, photos and videos, and one of the locals representing American Crystal Workers, BCTGM Local 167G in Grand Forks, Minnesota, has set up a Facebook page for members and supporters.