factory to begin work.

They were told to “beet it," and were replaced with temporary workers.

This is what happens when you refuse to accept labor contracts at the largest beet sugar producer in the nation.

According to numerous reports, around 1,300 plant workers throughout Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota rejected the company’s new contract.

Union members didn’t want to see their health insurance costs go up, which would eventually affect their wages, and they said the deal makes it easier for ACS to outsource non-union workers.

The result was that the company locked them out, effective at midnight July 31 (when the current contract expired). The workers on duty were escorted out by security, and in came the replacement employees, from Strom Engineering.

The beet sugar company wanted to prevent a strike; instead, they got a picket line.

Company Vice President Brian Ingulsrud said, “We’ve told them before we can’t allow employees to work without a contract when we’re preparing for the beet harvest. A strike at that time would be at a time when we’re most vulnerable, and we can’t have that happen.”

Ingulsrud wrote a column in the Grand Forks (ND) Herald, saying he felt the negotiations were reasonable. As to the healthcare benefits, he said that the benefits would have been the same for both union and non-union employees, but “the company will be paying 83% of union employees’ medical insurance costs.”

I took a look at the five-year contract that was considered beneath Local 167G's standards and saw what I believe

are pretty fair negotiations:

  • a $2,000 signing bonus
  • an 8% pay increase in the first year, which will total 17% by the end of the term
  • increase to an already-high pension fund
  • no subcontracting that would prevent layoffs of union jobs

In a recovering economy, that sounds pretty good at face value.

But the union is concerned with the insurance, which would align its workers with non-union employees. They would go from no premiums to $875 for annual family coverage and $281 for single.

Even going from nothing to something, $281 for a single person's annual premium sounds almost too good to be true.

Picketers are going to protest in front of the plants 24/7 until they see a fair contract created. Which will be hard, considering Ingulsrud has said there are no negotiations set yet for this week as of Monday, and American Crystal itself has no plans to further negotiate; the five-year contract was their final answer, at least for now.

Meanwhile, the temporary workers, who have been shadowing the out-of-work employees while ACS prepared for lockout, may be on the job permanently.

Do you think the union's 96% vote against this contract is unreasonable? Staffing Talk wants to hear your opinion!

Tags: Business, North Dakota, Minnesota, ACS, American Crystal Sugar factory, Beet sugar producer, Brian Ingulsrud, Contract rejection, Grand Forks Herald column, Iowa, Local 167G, Moorhead, Strom Engineering, Sugar factory union workers