Locked out Sugar Workers
They drove hundreds of miles to tell their story: Locked out of work. No health insurance. No unemployment. They left with more support and funds to keep fighting.
American Crystal Sugar (ACSC) has locked out 1,300 workers in three states (Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota) since August of 2011, including 26 workers at the ACSC plant in Mason City, Iowa. Two workers, Scott Ripplinger and Dave Harney drove from East Grand Forks, Minnesota, last week to talk to the unionists at the Iowa Federation of Labor Legislative Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ripplinger and Harney are members of the Bakery, Confectioner, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) local 167G, and were locked out of their jobs, when the members rejected the company’s final offer by more than a nine-to-one margin. The first offer was made in July of last year and with 97% of the members voting, 96% voted no. The company then made another so-called offer in October and 90% of the members voted it down.
“We know with the help of our union brothers and sisters we will make it” said Ripplinger at the IFL Conference. Ripplinger is a diabetic and has lost his health insurance and this lockout is taking a toll on his health, but not his spirit. The workers in Iowa and Minnesota were authorized unemployment insurance, but the works in North Dakota have been denied this benefit. “We continue to receive support from all over the world. We are not fighting this alone,” said Ripplinger.
The company has hired replacement workers, from Strohm Engineering, claiming they were “local”. Ripplinger said local like “North Carolina and Florida.” At a meeting with shareholders, ACSC President /CEO Dave Berg compared the workers to a cancerous tumor and he has to treat the union as disease and they have to come out.
Since the company locked out the union workers, the companies’ profits have fallen by 39% primarily due to less processing and the company’s short term debt has gone up to over $361 million. This lock out is hurting the workers and farmers, as well as the company. Crystal Sugar is one of the largest sugar processing companies in American processing over 60% of the beet sugar. C & H and Domino are the other two main processors. American Crystal Sugar made record profits the five of the past six years.
“It makes me proud of the labor movement when we do the right thing for people” said Ken Sagar, President of the Iowa Federation of Labor. A collection was taken at the conference, and $1752 was collected and the IFL donated another $500.
Anyone wanting to assist this local union can do so through their Relief Fund or Action Fund which is being handled by the Minnesota AFL-CIO. Send donations to Minnesota AFL-CIO, 175 Aurora Ave, St. Paul MN. 55103. (In the memo line of the check print either “BCTGM Action Fund” or “BCTGM Relief Fund”. There are several links to petitions and information at www.mnaflcio.org