Despite a lockout that's lasted 16 months, American Crystal Sugar officials say the company is on track for record sugar production.
Company President David Berg said at the cooperative's annual meeting Thursday that the ongoing lockout of 1,300 workers cut into the profit from last year's sugar beet crop. But he said the company is moving on with replacement workers.
"I would be misleading to say that it's no longer impacting American Crystal," he said. "The impact is diminishing rapidly."
Berg said company shareholders, the farmers who grow the sugar beets, produced a record crop this year and it could produce record profits.
WORKERS PICKET MEETING
Locked-out union workers picketed briefly outside the hotel where shareholders were meeting. Union leaders tried to deliver boxes of paper they said contained 100,000 signed petitions calling for an end to the lockout.
"Would you get Mr. Berg or one of the shareholders?" asked Union President John Riskey as hotel management and security turned away the workers. The plea was unsuccessful.
A handful of local leaders including city council members, a pastor and a teacher's union president showed support for the locked-out workers. Diane Wray Williams, a former state legislator and past member of the Moorhead City Council, said the company has forgotten its roots as a farmer-owned cooperative.
"They're misnamed. They're not a cooperative," she said. "They are a pure, honest-to-goodness corporation. American Crystal Sugar Corporation. And they've been acting like a corporation a long time."
The union supporters called on American Crystal to settle the labor dispute.
After the meeting, company President Berg said the company needed to reduce labor costs to ensure long-term financial health. "Even though some will say it hasn't been a cooperative spirit, I think it's been done for the right reasons to make sure we're a good viable, competitive business today and five and 10 and 20 years into the future," Berg said. "I believe we've been entirely consistent with that philosophy."
Berg offered a clear message to locked-out workers.
"We've hired people who like working there and they're delivering great results and that's what our focus is," Berg said. "Picket signs and protests, if that's important to you, I wish you the best. But frankly we have a sugar company to run and that's what we're doing."
Last weekend, locked-out workers rejected the company's contract offer for the fourth time. No new contract talks are scheduled.