Benefits may end for some Crystal workers

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) -- Some locked out employees of American Crystal Sugar in Minnesota could soon see their jobless benefits end.

Workers at East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead factories automatically became eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits when the lockout began in August 2011.

During the state's recovery from the recession and high unemployment, the initial 26 weeks were extended to 46 weeks and then 60, said Monte Hanson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

However, once Minnesota's unemployment rate stabilized below 6 percent, benefits were capped at 46 weeks.

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"Things just changed in Minnesota in terms of the maximum length in which you can receive benefits," Hanson said.

Hanson tells the Grand Forks Herald that the benefits could run out depending on when workers first applied for their payments. For instance, workers who didn't reach the end of their 46 weeks of benefits by June 23 won't receive the extension.

"They're sort of on the edge, essentially," Hanson said. "It's possible some qualify and some don't."

Union leader John Riskey said he did not expect the expiration of benefits to affect the union's strategy in negotiations with Crystal management. He pointed to the June 23 vote in which 63 percent of voting members rejected Crystal's contract as an indication of workers' unwillingness to accept the offer.

American Crystal management locked out around 1,300 employees Aug. 1 after both sides failed to agree on a new contract.

Riskey, who is president of Bakery Workers Local 167G, representing factories in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead, said he did not have a firm count of workers who are losing benefits, but he expects affected workers to identify themselves.

Workers at the Drayton and Hillsboro factories in North Dakota never were eligible because state law doesn't differentiate between strikes, lockouts or other labor disputes.


Information from: Grand Forks Herald,