FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sugar Workers Return After 20-Month Lockout

by DAVID MACARAY

Approximately 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union (BCTGM) from Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota, who’d been locked-out since August 1, 2011, by the Moorhead, Minnesota-based American Crystal Company, voted on April 13 to accept the company’s last offer. The new contract will run until 2017. This was the fifth ratification vote. The previous four had been rejected.

The lockout began when an overwhelming 96-percent of the voting membership rejected what they considered to be an egregiously inferior, if not insulting contract offer. Among other things, the company aggressively attacked seniority, job security, and health care benefits. Considering that American Crystal was flush with profits, the employees—many of whom had worked for the company for more than 25 years—felt they had no choice but to reject it.

So why would a company like American Crystal take this opportunity to reinvent the wheel? Why now? Why would they choose this moment to go after so many of the benefits that union members have had for many decades—boilerplate benefits that U.S. companies, in their wildest and most optimistic dreams, never would’ve considered attacking?

Why? Because the time was right. Because the economic stars were in alignment, and because our zeitgeist has shifted so dramatically, today’s working men and women, particularly those affiliated with labor unions, are clearly in the cross-hairs. It’s true. While Wall Street bankers are gleefully hoisted upon the shoulders of congressional lobbyists, the American worker has been left to twist slowly in the wind.

What’s worse is that instead of being sympathetic, the public goes around saying dumb things like, “Unions used to be necessary, but not anymore,” and “We live in a global economy, so we just have to accept it,” and “Union wages drove our jobs overseas.” Dumb, dumb, dumb. Sadly, the American public has morphed into a tribe of corporate minions. They may as well drop to their knees and say, “I now worship at the altar of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
I spoke by telephone a few weeks ago with David Durkee, the International president of the BCTGM. Durkee is a smart, tough union officer, very aware of the situation facing organized labor, and up to his eyeballs in alligators. What we discussed was the progress being made in finding new ownership for Hostess. Whatever the reason—whether the American Crystal vote hadn’t reached critical mass or whether he didn’t wish it publicized—the lockout never came up. I didn’t ask about it and he didn’t volunteer.

In any event, those union members deserve our profound gratitude. Staying out 20 months for a cause is a tremendous sacrifice. You can’t collect unemployment when you’re on strike, but you can when you’re locked-out (although North Dakota treats strikes and lockouts the same, denying all benefits). Still, these BCTGM members’ unemployment checks ran out long time ago, so they’ve been scraping by in other ways.

Another reason to applaud them is that their strike and ratification votes were done by secret ballot. Legally, they could have voted by acclimation, where people raise their hands or shout out Yea or Nay. Secret ballots are only required for elections or money issues (e.g., raising dues or officers’ salaries) One of the problems (or virtues, if you like) of an acclimation vote is that people tend to get swept away by the mood of the room, and sound tougher and more resolute than they really feel.

But these were straight-from-the-heart secret votes. Following the initial 96-percent rejection, they voted 90-percent to reject the following November, 63-percent in June of 2013, and 55-percent last December. The final offer was ratified by 55-percent. The BCTGM is an amazingly tough labor union. Of course, people will say, “That’s not being tough, that’s being stupid.” Pity those people. They have no principles.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail