The "pre-pile" has begun in the Red River Valley, as the lockout of union workers in the sugar beet refineries continues.
Pre-pile harvest begins in early September. This limited harvest allows farmers to open roadways through fields in preparation for the main harvest, which begins in October.
The Crookston Times reports in Not just any American Crystal pre-pile:
But with union workers in their second month of being locked out by the company as the labor dispute continues, this isn’t just any pre-pile harvest.
Company officials continue to express confidence that replacement workers will be able to efficiently and effectively operate the factories once the harvest is running at full-speed. Union members, however, counter that the jobs they perform are specialized and require experience and skill, and they question whether the replacement workers will be up to the task.
The Grand Forks Herald reports in Weather cooperates on first day of pre-pile beet harvest:
American Crystal has locked out its union labor force in its plants and as seasonal workers for the harvest campaign as part of an ongoing labor dispute, so the company is using replacement workers in its plants and for campaign work. No further talks have been scheduled between the union and the company.
Bernardson said the company has been able to fully staff its beet piling sites and the lockout did not negatively impact the first day of pre-pile harvest.
“Labor has not been an issue for us so far,” he said.
Union representatives have expressed skepticism that the company will be able to run its plants as efficiently or safely once the plants begin operating on Thursday with replacement workers. Company officials have expressed confidence in the replacement workers’ ability to operate the plants.
Letters to the editor supporting the locked out workers continue to appear in local newspapers. In the Fargo Forum, Daryl G. Thompson writes in Shame on union workers who drive for Crystal:
Many of you take time from your regular employment to drive truck during the harvest. But if you are a union member or association member in your regular employment and you cross the picket lines at American Crystal, shame on you. This type of action is how “union busting” gets started.
Peter Schiefelbein asks questions about replacement workers he swa cashing check to send mone home, in Labor dispute has more than money at stake:
As I think about the conversation, a number of thoughts come to mind, none of them pleasant:
** Just how much money is going out of the valley that used to be spent locally? And how long before that income loss begins to be felt as lost business and tax revenue?
** The replacement workers have just as strong an attachment to their home communities as the locked-out workers have to ours. But those who live here have a vested interest in making sure American Crystal survives because this is their home. Workers from outside don’t.
If things at the plant do start to go south, how long before the new workers start doing the same?
** And what about management? They have convinced the farmers that the new hires can operate the plants just as efficiently as the old hands. But if they’re wrong, the losses could be horrendous.
A major risk is being taken in what amounts to a deadly game of chicken between the farmers and workers. And who’s taking the risk? If a crash should occur, farmers and workers stand to lose everything. But executives? Million-dollar salaries make for a comfy golden parachute. I doubt the execs will be around to pick up the pieces.
** Are the differences between labor and management so great that it has been worth trashing a carefully built trust developed over years of working together?
Photo: Locked out workers and allies picket.