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Published September 28, 2011, 03:36 PM

Labor Board Dismisses Union's Claims in American Crystal Lockout

The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed claims by union workers who alleged American Crystal Sugar executives failed to negotiate in good faith before locking out 1,300 employees on Aug. 1.

By: Kristin M. Daum, Forum Communications

The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed claims by union workers who alleged American Crystal Sugar executives failed to negotiate in good faith before locking out 1,300 employees on Aug. 1.

James Fox, NLRB’s acting regional director, cited in his decision several positive examples of American Crystal’s efforts, while chastising union representatives for their lack of compromise at the bargaining table.

The labor board’s decision marks the latest development in an ongoing dispute between the company and representatives for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 167G.

The union alleged American Crystal executives violated the National Labor Relations Act, but the NLRB determined this week that there was no basis for the allegations.

American Crystal negotiators “clearly laid out (their) objectives at the start of bargaining,” Fox wrote in a letter to union reps this week. “The proposed changes to the contract were narrowly focused and explained to the union.”

Fox added that the union refused to consider the company’s proposals and “made virtually no counterproposals” to remedy the dispute.

Because of the union’s lack of compromise, little progress was made in negotiations between May and July, Fox wrote.

He noted that American Crystal Sugar executives made significant changes in the union’s favor in presenting its final two offers in July, but the union “made few, if any, concessions and no counter offers.”

“While the union may be dissatisfied with the employer’s explanations,” Fox wrote, “there is insufficient evidence to suggest that (ACS’s action) constitutes bad-faith bargaining.”

The union has until Oct. 11 to appeal Fox’s decision to the NLRB’s acting general counsel.

American Crystal executives heralded the labor board’s decision as confirmation of their good-faith negotiations.

“(The) board’s dismissal of the union’s charges clearly affirms that we have acted with transparency, clarity and willingness to compromise,” Vice President Brian Ingulsrud said in a statement. “Successful negotiations are based on reasonable give and take by both parties.”

“As this ruling clarified, we’ve been willing to negotiate but the union hasn’t shown the same willingness,” Ingulsrud said.

In its response, the union said it strongly disagrees with the ruling, although “it does not come as a surprise.”

John Riskey, BCTGM Local 167G president, said in a statement that the union will immediately appeal the ruling to the acting general council of the National Labor Relations Board.

American Crystal Sugar Co. made its final offer to union members on July 28 but workers overwhelmingly rejected it.

That move forced the company to lock out the 1,300 workers – including those at five sugar-beet processing plants in the Red River Valley.

Contracted replacement workers were brought in to continue the company’s plant operations through this fall’s beet harvest.

Daum is a reporter at the Forum in Fargo

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