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American Crystal, union at odds over new contract

FARGO, N.D.

The union that represents more than 1,300 American Crystal Sugar Co. employees has gone to the National Labor Relations Board with accusations that the sugar beet cooperative is not negotiating in good faith on a new contract and is threatening workers with a lockout.

A July 18 memo from Crystal management tells employees at factories in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota to remove all personal belongings from company property before Aug. 1 in the event of a lockdown.

John Riskey, president of the local affiliated with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, said the company has been preparing for a lockout since last year.

"They had absolutely no intention of negotiating a new contract in good faith, and that is illegal," he said.

Crystal spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said the company is confident an agreement will be reached but that "as a responsible business, we need to prepare for any potential outcome."

The existing contract that expires July 31 was a seven-year deal that featured annual 2 percent pay raises.

American Crystal is the largest beet sugar producer in the country. It is owned by about 3,000 farmer shareholders who grow beets on about half a million acres each year.

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