American Crystal Sugar employees have accepted contract offer, union official says - InForum

EAST GRAND FORKS, MN - American Crystal Sugar Co. employees voted. on Tuesday, September 13, 2022, to accept a proposal for a four-year employment contract that raises wages by a total of 17% over four years. Votes were counted on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

The union voted against a similar bid on July 26. The new deal provided annual wage increases of 8%, 3%, 3%, and 3%, respectively, over the next four years. This adjusts for some of the amounts in the rejected deal that offered 7% in the first year, followed by increases of 4%, 3% and 3%.

The farmer-owned sugar-manufacturing cooperative negotiates with bakeries, confectioners, tobacco workers and grain millers. The two parties met recently on September 7 and 8, after which the negotiating committee recommended that members vote for him.

John Risky, president of BCTGM Local 167G, which includes Crystal plants in Drayton, North Dakota, Crookston, Minnesota and Moorhead, Minnesota, confirmed a majority vote Wednesday afternoon after the count was counted. Riskey was unable to reveal how many members voted, the percentage of votes cast, or whether he was accepted across all sites. He can only confirm that the majority voted for him.

“The members have spoken,” Risky said.

“We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with our employees,” said Lisa Burgen, Crystal Vice President of Administration. She said the new agreement increased wages by 17% over four years, boosts time off and vacation, increases pension payments, adds a new vision insurance plan, and “brings other positive benefits to our employees.”

Earlier, Burgen said the proposals meant the company’s full-time workers wouldn’t get paid less than $20.60 an hour.

Owned by 2,600 shareholder farmers, American Crystal produces beets on approximately 436,000 acres in the Red River Valley. The contract covers approximately 1,189 employees in seven locations. The five-year “Main Agreement”, which was negotiated in April and May 2017, expired on July 31.

The downvote earlier included a $1,000 “certification bonus”, if the contract was approved by August 1. That is gone but has been replaced by the “Keep” bonus, which is also $1,000. To receive this bonus, employees must work on Thursday, November 24, 2022, Thanksgiving Day. The union negotiating committee and the company agreed to pay the bonus on December 1. The company will make the payments until each eligible employee receives a full $1,000 check, and will take care of the associated income taxes.

As before, Burgen’s new contract was set at a shorter four-year period in part because both sides were concerned about the changing economy. The bonus does not go to the harvest and temporary employees.

Burgen said retention is moving toward rewards during the holidays

The company has proposed increasing pay scales for 16 jobs for certain categories. “A total of 21 specific jobs were paid on multi-year contract wages,” the summary said. “These wages will become permanent before the annual increases are added.”

According to the negotiation process, on the company’s website:

  • The union initially requested a $10 per hour increase across the board, plus a 10% increase in the first year, an additional 24% increase over three years, and a 401k pension fund increase on a contract.
  • The company responded with an offer of a five-year contract with an increase of 4% in the first year, 6% annually over four years, and a total of 10% over five years.”
  • The counter union proposed an overall raise of $8 an hour, with increases of 8% each year over a four-year contract.
  • The counter company proposed a 4% increase in the first year, then a 5% increase over the last three years of a four-year contract, with the new paid leave program for newborns.
  • The company’s final offer was a 7% increase in the first year, 4% in the second, followed by two 3% increases - a total of 17% over the years.

In the accepted contract, the company offered that leave would accrue every two weeks instead of every year. Employees will have a fourth week of vacation after their 10th year of service (instead of 15 years under the previous system). In their 20 years of service, they get five weeks a year. Employees who started work before August 1, 2023 and have 25 years of continuous service receive six weeks of vacation.

Also under the accepted proposal, employees would have earned time off at “available balance” in each pay period, rather than waiting for a lump sum in the following January. Under the current system, leave carries up to 1.5 times the amount of the annual benefit in the following calendar year.

The new contract language also allowed for 40 hours of paid time off whether the employee had a “birth or adoption of a child”.

Burgen noted that the company’s use of “temporary workers” was an important union concern. The contract stipulated that temporary workers (ex-employees, retirees, etc.) would not replace full-time jobs but would provide “extension vacancy relief” and would not be eligible for paid leave or medical coverage and could not work for more than 180 days unless agreed reciprocally between the Federation and the Administration.