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In Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota, American Crystal, a cooperative that accounts for 38 percent of the nation’s sugar from beets and 15 percent of overall sugar production, locked out 1300 unionized workers over a month ago as their negotiations for a new contract fell apart.
American Crystal’s last offer was a 17 percent pay increase over five years, but workers rejected it over job security provisions, health care costs and language in the contract they say will hurt workers in future years.
While lockouts are a company’s legal alternative to a union strike, they do not occur all that often. According to the National Labor Relations Board [PDF]:
An employer who is engaged in good-faith bargaining with a union may lock out the represented employees, sometimes even before impasse is reached in the negotiations, if it does so to further its position in bargaining….On the other hand, lockouts are lawful that are intended to prevent any unusual losses or safety hazards that would be caused by an anticipated “quickie” strike. And a whipsaw strike against one employer engaged in multiemployer bargaining justifies a lockout by any of the other employers who are party to the bargaining.
Many unions and their members take pride in their right to strike, often believing that their employers cannot find anyone who can replace them; however, they also take great insult when employers lock out the union workers and bring in replacement workers*.
Well, apparently, the union workers at American Sugar have taken great insult at being replaced as the some union protesters’ conduct in the lockout has gotten ugly.
Allegations of racial slurs and racist symbols directed at replacement workers and security personnel contracted by American Crystal have been leveled against union supporters picketing outside the company’s plants. A union representative disavowed reports of racist activity.
Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker confirmed that “there have been racial statements made to security people” outside the company’s Hillsboro, N.D., plant.
Crocker also said he recently saw a monkey-like figure hanging from a noose attached to a large inflatable rat outside the plant. He said that by the next day the monkey and the noose had been removed.
In addition to the monkey hanging by a noose incident, there are unconfirmed reports of some picketers outside the Hillsboro, ND plant were dressed in white sheets.
However, the union is trying to distance itself as far as it can from being accused of being racist.
“It is not something that the union will accept in any way,” he said. “The union will not put up with any kind of racism. When you are dealing with 1,300 people, are all of them going to be pure of heart and pure of soul? Absolutely not. The union has emphasized to its members that these transient workers come in all colors. It is beneath the dignity of you as a person to use the racist card.”
Froemke, who is associated with the AFL-CIO of Minnesota while on leave from the company’s East Grand Forks plant, said union leaders in East Grand Forks have been diligent in telling those present not to make racist comments or mock the ethnicity of the replacement workers.
Apparently, based on Fromke’s statements, racism within his union is something he is used to dealing with, since union leaders have been so diligent in telling its members not to make racist comments. However, Fromke’s statement blaming members does seem somewhat disingenuous, since there was a monkey hanging by a noose on an inflatable rat owned by…?
Clearly, from a PR standpoint, the union might want to think about not ordering any burning crosses to shed light and warmth on the union picketers during those cold nights on the picket lines.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
HT: Marathon Pundit
Cross-posted at LaborUnionReport.com
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* Note: In economic strikes, employers are legally allowed to permanently replace (not fire) workers. However, in lockouts, workers can only be temporarily replaced (although there no time limit in the term ‘temporary’).