This last weekend, students in Bill Moore's class, Labor Organizing, had a first-hand opportunity to discuss the American Crystal Sugar Company (ACSC) Lock-Out with two workers that have been locked out their jobs since August 1, 2011.
Dave Harney started with Crystal Sugar in June 2010 at the East Grand Forks Factory as a millwright. Nathan Rham has been employed four and a half years at Crystal Sugar's Hillsboro, ND factory, most recently as a Process Technician 3. Although neither ambassador had been heavily involved in the unions prior to the lock-out, they both find themselves as union spokemen now. "I'm sticking around because my co-workers are making a stand against corporate injustice," says Harney. "And, if we don't take a stand, here and now, it wil be a lot worse for the next generation of workers - not just in the Red River Valley, but all over the country."
Despite the fact that Crystal Sugar made record high profits last year, the company claimed they could no longer afford the employee benefit package from the previous contract and, going forward, needed to scale back their benefits. "When we got told we had the best year ever, then to learn we were locked out it was like having the wind knocked out of you. It was a big surprise!" Nathan said
As of yet, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Miller (BCTBM) Union have not been able to successfully negotiate a new five year contract with Crystal Sugar. While speaking with MAPL students, Rham and Harney outlined a variety of strategies union organizers have been using to raise public awareness about the Lock-Out, most recently being the Journey for Justice campaign, a six-day, six-state solidarity journey from Fargo North Dakota to Findlay, Ohio. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness, participate in solidarity rallies scheduled throughout the trip and raise money to help families of locked-out workers. Jessica Hayssen (MAPL cohort 2) played an instrumental role in organizing the campaign and training union ambassadors like Nathan and Dave to speak directly from their core values. Nathan states, "I like to think I'm an outspoken individual and I'm glad to have a chance to speak up for workers' rights.
MAPL student, Anna Bergreen (cohort 14), echoed these sentiments, saying that with all the negativity in the press about labor unions, it is vitially important right now to shatter the 'union stereotype' and start talking to people about what unions really do to protect workers.
For more information on the American Crystal Sugar Lock-Out, visit the union's lock-out Webiste, Crystal Greed.