MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — Workers at the largest sugar beet processor in the U.S. have rejected a contract offer that includes a 17% pay increase over four years.
Union president John Riskey said the offer from American Crystal Sugar was recently rejected by an overwhelming margin, but he did not provide details on how many members voted or the margin of rejection.
The Moorhead-based cooperative said that it negotiated for 10 days with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union.
The company said in addition to the pay increase, the contract offered more vacation, increased pension benefits and a $1,000 ratification bonus if the new contract was approved by July 31, when the current contract expires.
Riskey said workers felt they deserved a bigger pay increase after helping the company weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They kept it running, kept getting the product out, helped keep the company profitable and they just feel like they just aren’t getting ahead,” he said. “We have the inflation issue, too, with inflation going up where you know with the offer that the company has, it just isn’t keeping up.”
Riskey said workers want contract talks to continue, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
American Crystal said the new deadline for an agreement is Sept. 15. It agreed to continuing contract talks with a federal mediator at the table.
The company's factories process sugar beets grown by about 2,600 farmer-shareholders on 425,000 acres of land in the Red River Valley of northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.