For the past five months, American Crystal Sugar, the largest sugar beet producer in the country, has locked out 1,300 of its unionized workers in Minnesota who had the audacity to demand a fair contract with the company. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has implored the corporation to renew negotiations, to no avail — instead of returning to the negotiating table, Crystal Sugar has hired replacement workers.
Over the holiday season the workers “struggle to survive,” Dayton said, and “the lockout has devastated families, communities, and the economy in Northwestern Minnesota.” Desperate to get back to work but determined to stand by their principles, the workers have had prayer vigils with faith leaders in the community.
But Crystal Sugar President and CEO Dave Berg apparently has absolutely no sympathy for his workers’ plight. In fact, at a recent meeting with shareholders, he compared them to a cancerous tumor:
In a meeting of company shareholders on November 7 in Grafton, ND, Berg likened the workers to a 21-pound cancerous tumor. According to an audio recording of the meeting, Berg told the story of a sick friend who was diagnosed with cancer and had a massive tumor removed. “That’s a scary deal. He was sick for a long time,” said Berg. “We can’t let a labor contract make us sick forever and ever and ever. We have to treat the disease and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Workers have responded with disappointment and outrage. Sarah Gust, who has worked at ACSC for 40 years remarked, “The fact that Dave Berg would refer to our union, our contract as a cancerous tumor is deeply offensive to me and many of my co-workers. Some of us have had cancer or have lost loved ones to cancer. It’s a tragic, devastating disease. And that’s how Crystal Sugar management sees our union. I tell you, this just shows how much respect Dave Berg and the management have for us workers.”
Listen to the audio here.
Discussing his strategy for dealing with the union workers, Berg again used the analogy: “At some point that tumor’s got to come out. That’s what we’re doing.” Sadly, comparing unionized labor to cancer is nothing new amongst conservatives, who evidently believe workers shouldn’t be able to bargain for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Another locked out worker who has been with the company for 16 years said, “Our contract represents years of struggle to protect good jobs at Crystal and build a mutually respectful relationship with management. Now, Dave Berg is throwing all of that away for greed.”
Gov. Dayton has made it clear that it’s ASC’s recalcitrance and attempt to squash labor for profit that’s preventing a solution. “It is time for American Crystal’s management to reach a fair agreement with its workers, who have contributed so much to the company’s current profitability,” he observed.