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Union accepts American Crystal Sugar contract to avoid labor lockout

MOORHEAD, Minn. — The labor union for American Crystal Sugar Co. has accepted an offer from the company for a five-year labor contract.

"It's a great day," said American Crystal Sugar CEO Tom Astrup. "It's a great day for our employees, for our shareholders, our customers and the entire Red River Valley. We've got great things going on in our company."

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union voted Thursday, May 18, to accept the offer, which calls for 3 percent wage increases for four years, followed by a 2.75 percent increase in the contract's final year. The offer also increased the pension multiplier by $1.25 and increased the death benefit by $5,000.

The offer also made changes to the attendance policy and eliminated a reduced wage rate for employees taking 12-hour rotating shifts. The company offered signing bonuses of $2,250 if the offer was accepted before May 22.

John Riskey, local president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The union's acceptance of the offer averts a repeat of a 22-month lockout during the last contract negotiations between American Crystal Sugar and the union. In that instance, the company locked out workers from July 2011 to May 2013 when they failed to reached an agreement.

While the two sides were reportedly "far apart" a week ago after eight days of negotiations, the union ultimately decided to accept American Crystal Sugar's "best and final" offer.

"I was always optimistic that they would recognize that the offer was fair to them and the company and the shareholders," said Lisa Borgen, American Crystal's vice president for administration.

"I'm just pleased that both parties came to the table and discussed their differences and we were able to come to a fair agreement at the end of the day," Astrup said.

The contract covers approximately 1,300 employees at American Crystal Sugar's five Red River Valley beet sugar factories and at distribution centers in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa. The distribution centers are operated by United Sugars Corporation, a marketing subsidiary of American Crystal Sugar and two other sugar companies.

"I think that there is a renewed cooperation between the company and the employees that it is in all of our interests to be a team and move forward in being the best sugar company in the country," Borgen said.

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