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Crystal Sugar settles bad faith bargaining claim

American Crystal Sugar offices, 101 3rd St. N., Moorhead, Minn. David Samson / Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. has reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board that resolves union accusations the company had direct and improper communications with employees regarding contract negotiations.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board last summer claiming that several letters Crystal Sugar sent to workers in late 2015 and early 2016 illegally threatened to lock out employees if they failed to negotiate early on a labor contract that expires July 31, 2017.

The union also alleged that information the company communicated to workers constituted improper "direct dealing" with employees.

The labor relations board issued a decision last fall finding that the letters did not constitute a lockout threat, but a question remained as to whether the company had improperly circumvented the union when communicating with employees.

Now, as part of an agreement with the labor relations board, Crystal Sugar has agreed to send a notice to all employees that reitterates in writing that federal law gives workers the right to form, join or assist a union and that Crystal Sugar "will not do anything to prevent you from exercising" such rights.

The notice also states the company "will not bypass your union and deal directly with you concerning changes in your wages, hours and working conditions, including by sending you contract proposals we offered the union far in advance of the contract expiration, when the union has no obligation to bargain with us."

In a written statement regarding the settlement, Crystal Sugar said it decided to enter into an agreement with the labor relations board rather than "incur the costs and experience the distractions that would result from litigation."

The company added that its goal has always been to come to a fair contract resolution.

"We are hopeful that the union leaders will agree to meet soon to begin this process," the company said in its statement.

 In its agreement with the labor relations board Crysal Sugar did not admit wrongdoing.

John Riskey, president of the union local in Grand Forks, said on Friday, Jan. 20, that the union maintains a position that the company improperly communicated directly with workers.

Dave Olson
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