Locked-out Crystal Sugar workers reject contract 4th time; dispute would end if deal approved – 12/1/2012 8:22:12 PM | Newser

Contract opponents say the sugar beet processor’s five-year contract offer would cut health care benefits and weaken job security and seniority protections. The company says the offer would raise worker pay by 17 percent over five years when a $2,000 signing bonus is taken into account.

Leaders of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International union said in a news release that the workers voted 55 percent to reject management’s contract offer.

“By now it should be clear that Dave Berg and Crystal Sugar’s management team has no interest in ending a fiscally irresponsible lockout that has been disastrous to farm shareholders, put the federal sugar program in jeopardy, and hurt countless families in the Red River Valley,” said John Riskey, the head of a union local that represents employees at three American Crystal factories.

“It’s time for shareholders to reclaim their company and send management back to the table for real give-and-take negotiations,” he said.

Company officials said in a statement Saturday after learning about the workers’ vote that the package is “solid and generous” and “similar to what we are offering our current employees.”

“We’re finding the pay and benefits included in it are attracting high quality area workers who are now creating a productive and successful new workforce for our Company,” the statement said. “The Company continues to move forward and focus on running our business, processing beets and delivering sugar to our customers.”

The lockout began in Aug. 1, 2011, and affected about 1,300 workers at plants in Drayton and Hillsboro, N.D., and Minnesota factories in Moorhead, Crookston and East Grand Forks. More than 500 of those workers have since left, said Brian Ingulsrud, an American Crystal vice president.

The company has used replacement workers to continue operating the plants.

Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal is a cooperative owned by about 2,800 sugar beet growers. It is the nation’s largest sugar beet processor, selling 90 percent of its production to industrial customers, including candy makers, bakeries and breakfast cereal makers.

The lockout began after 96 percent of the workers voting on the company’s contract proposal rejected the offer on July 31, 2011. In subsequent ballots, 90 percent of the voting workers turned down the proposal in November 2011, and 63 percent rejected it in June.

In October, the AFL-CIO called for a boycott of Crystal’s products. Some of the company’s sugar is sold in grocery stores under Crystal’s own label. It is sold as “Market Pantry” sugar in Target Corp. stores in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

via Locked-out Crystal Sugar workers reject contract 4th time; dispute would end if deal approved – 12/1/2012 8:22:12 PM | Newser.

Teamsters Local 120 under scrutiny, Twin Cities execs on leave | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — The International Brotherhood of Teamsters says it has taken over leadership of a local union with offices in four states and placed its top two executives on leave, citing evidence of financial irregularities.

The parent union and its president, James P. Hoffa, placed Local 120, based in the Twin Cities suburb of Blaine, into emergency trusteeship Tuesday after determining there was a violation of “fiduciary responsibility,” said Bret Caldwell, spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The Teamsters Independent Review Board has been investigated Local 120 and its executives for the past several months, officials said. In a memo posted at the local’s offices, Hoffa said problems at Local 120 “appear to be pervasive and ongoing.”

Caldwell said the local top two leaders, Bradley Slawson, Sr., and Bradley Slawson, Jr., have been place on leave and the local leadership board has been dissolved. A call to Bradley Slawson, Jr., was not immediately returned. A listing for Bradley Slawson, Sr., could not be found.

Hoffa’s memo cited apparent irregularities with Local 120’s plans to construct a new union hall in 2007 and 2008. A $90,000 “finder’s fee,” was paid by the building’s general contractor to a family friend of a union leader, according to the memo. Hoffa said there was an unauthorized diversion of $189,000 from Local 120’s strike fund to pay for the new building.

The review also found irregularities in the operation of a bar and gaming operation in Fargo, N.D., known as the Teamsters Club, the Star Tribune reported. Hoffa’s memo says a family friend of the Slawsons was allegedly employed by the club as a consultant and was paid without approval of the local’s executive board. It said local funds were used to subsidize the club’s continuing losses without disclosing it to the executive board or membership.

A Teamsters hearing panel appointed by Hoffa will review the allegations involving Local 120 within 60 days. If the claims are upheld, the Slawsons will not be allowed to return to leadership positions at Local 120, Caldwell said.

Teamsters Local 120 represents employees from several industries, but it might be best known as a local for drivers, freight handlers and warehouse workers. The local also has offices in Mankato; Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines and Dubuque, Iowa.

via Teamsters Local 120 under scrutiny, Twin Cities execs on leave | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Fargo detective suspended over Facebook photo of seized cash | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

FARGO, N.D. – A Fargo police detective with a history of disciplinary actions was suspended for two days without pay in August for posting to Facebook a photo of cash seized in a drug investigation, police records show.

According to documents obtained by The Forum via an open records request:

Detective Bret Witte, a narcotics investigator, took the photo on June 11 with his personal cell phone and posted it on his personal Facebook account with the caption, “Cash seizure from search warrant today. Crime didn’t pay today did it buddy?”

The next day, a Fargo police sergeant who noticed the Facebook post e-mailed it to the head of the department’s narcotics unit, Sgt. Mat Sanders.

Sanders, who was vacationing in Minneapolis at the time, initially believed the e-mail was interdepartmental, the investigative report states.

When Sanders returned to work on June 14, he realized the photo was posted on Witte’s Facebook account and ordered Witte to remove it, which he did immediately.

A complaint was filed with the Office of Professional Standards alleging that Witte violated department policy by disseminating images of official police business and failing to conform to work standards for his position.

Investigations Lt. Joel Vettel recommended the two-day suspension in a July 24 memo to Deputy Chief Pat Claus.

“This act by Officer Witte put the professional reputation of the Fargo Police Department in jeopardy,” Vettel wrote. “His disregard for department policy concerning dissemination of sensitive material had the potential to jeopardize the prosecution of an active criminal case.”

Witte’s past disciplinary issues were factors in Vettel’s recommendation, the memo shows.

Witte received a letter of reprimand in April for leaving his unmarked police car unlocked, resulting in the theft of several pieces of department-issued equipment, including a bulletproof vest, handcuffs, a Taser, a knife, a handheld police radio and two loaded ammunition clips for a handgun.

Vettel also noted in the memo that Witte was disciplined in December 2010 for conducting a controlled drug buy without backup officers, putting himself and the confidential informant at greater risk.

“Although the policies that were violated were different, the underlying problem of poor decision making is the common theme in each of these incidents,” Vettel wrote.

While it’s not mentioned in Vettel’s memo, Witte also lost 15 days without pay in 2002 after admitting to supervisors he had sexual relations in his squad car with an 18-year-old woman he was dating at the time.

Witte, in a letter responding to the recommended discipline for the Facebook post, apologized to Police Chief Keith Ternes, explaining that his intent was “to reflect a positive accomplishment and nothing more.”

Witte wrote that while he didn’t intend to violate the policy, “I understand ignorance is not an excuse.”

“I’m sorry I let you down and I will work harder to avoid future mistakes,” he wrote.

According to the investigative report by internal affairs Sgt. Mike Mitchell, Witte said that at the time he posted the photo, he didn’t realize it violated policy. But the report notes that Witte had participated in a staff meeting just a month earlier in which Claus reviewed updated department policies, including the policy on dissemination of information.

During the May 10 meeting, Claus relayed to staff that, while it’s not the preferred method, personnel cell phones can be used when a department camera isn’t available. Claus “was specific that the images taken are to be treated as official police business,” the report states.

Witte, when asked about the policy review meeting, said he didn’t recall specifics, the report states. He acknowledged he had initialed the policy distribution log and agreed to follow the policies.

On June 11, Witte and other narcotics detectives seized a large sum of cash and about half a pound of marijuana while executing a search warrant in south Fargo. The items were transported to police headquarters.

While sitting at his desk, Witte took a photo of the seized cash with his camera phone, he explained in a June 22 letter to Mitchell.

“Since there was no specific identifying information, I didn’t believe I was violating any policy regarding release of information,” Witte wrote, adding that his Facebook profile status is restricted to private so only friends can see his posts and pictures.

“Hindsight being 20/20, I regret posting the picture and I am embarrassed this led to a formal complaint,” he wrote.

Witte served his suspension on Aug. 10 and 13.

In addition, Ternes ordered Witte to review and re-familiarize himself with all department policies.

“You must recognize that any future violations of department policy may result in discipline up to and including the termination of your employment,” Ternes wrote in the Aug. 1 disciplinary order.

Vettel said Ternes was not available for comment Thursday. Witte did not return a phone message seeking comment.

via Fargo detective suspended over Facebook photo of seized cash | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

North Dakota sheriff’s deputy arrested in break-in at Minnesota convenience store resigns | StarTribune.com

GRAFTON, N.D. – A North Dakota sheriff’s deputy charged in a break-in at a Minnesota convenience store has resigned.

The Grand Forks Herald reports ( http://bit.ly/SZ9KYh) that 22-year-old Adam Koenig of Park River submitted his resignation Tuesday. He had been hired by the Walsh County Sheriff’s Office in September.

Koenig is charged with burglary and damage to property in the break-in at a Holiday gas station in Crookston, Minn., last Thursday. He has been released from jail after posting $500 bail and is to appear in court on Jan. 14. A telephone listing for him could not immediately be found.

via North Dakota sheriff’s deputy arrested in break-in at Minnesota convenience store resigns | StarTribune.com.

Grand Forks, North Dakota: Deputy U.S. marshal found dead in government vehicle – TwinCities.com

A deputy U.S. marshal from Grand Forks was found dead in his government vehicle shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday in a parking lot at Lincoln Park, just east of Belmont Road off Lincoln Drive.

According to Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett, who appeared at 10 a.m. news conference with Paul Ward, U.S. marshal for North Dakota, and Dan Orr, chief deputy marshal for the North Dakota district, two witnesses called 911 and directed police to where the body of Deputy Marshal Robert Wood, 46, was in his work SUV.

An autopsy is being conducted today on Wood’s body, but little could be said about Wood’s death, Packett, Ward and Orr said, because of the ongoing investigation.

No foul play is suspected, Ward told the Herald Wednesday night.

No one else is being investigated in Wood’s death, or considered involved in it,Packett said. “There is no need for any public safety concerns,” he said.

Results of the autopsy may not be released for four to six weeks, Packett said.

The witnesses were near Wood’s vehicle when it happened and they called 911 and directed police to the SUV, Packett said. Wood had been dead only a short time when police arrived on the scene and were directed to the SUV by the witnesses, Packett said.

Others with knowledge of the incident, including a law enforcement officer, who said they couldn’t speak on the record because of the investigation, told the Herald the death apparently involved a gunshot.

Asked about those reports, Packett

and Ward said nothing about the possible cause of death was being released yet.

A nearby resident said he saw a lot of police at the scene, covering the driver’s side window and part of the windshield “with some kind of cloth,” and emergency workers removing Wood’s body from the car and putting on an ambulance gurney.

Wood grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1986-1990, when he joined the Department of Justice’s Marshal Service, assigned first to the Washington, D.C., office, Orr said. Wood was transferred to Grand Forks in 1994 where he worked since, in the transport of federal prisoners, investigation of unregistered sex offenders and capturing federal fugitives, Orr said.

“I’ve known Bob for over 20 years and he’s excellent employee and a good friend,” Orr said.

Wood lived in Grand Forks with his wife and their three sons, Orr said.

“This is a very difficult time for the family.”

via Grand Forks, North Dakota: Deputy U.S. marshal found dead in government vehicle – TwinCities.com.

Whistleblower at WSI claims agency retaliated | INFORUM | Fargo, ND

BISMARCK – An employee of North Dakota’s workers’ compensation agency who blew the whistle on suspected wrongdoing is alleging she has suffered retaliation.

Barbara Frohlich filed a grievance with Workforce Safety and Insurance, the state workers’ compensation agency, alleging several instances of retaliation for her “whistle-blowing” actions.

Frohlich, who works as a liaison with medical providers who treat injured workers, filed an affidavit outlining the deletion of the record and what she portrayed as efforts by managers to whitewash the suspected crime.

She first made her allegations by filing an internal “fraud hotline” complaint last August and was frustrated by what she regarded as a response that sought to minimize or cover up improprieties, rather than resolve problems.

Ultimately, in April, she submitted a sworn statement detailing her allegations to criminal investigators. The results of that investigation have not yet been disclosed.

The purported retaliation, Frohlich said, included remarks from her supervisor made in a “curt and accusatory” tone, despite assurances from supervisors, including Bryan Klipfel, WSI’s director.

“I was assured on multiple occasions there would be no retaliation against me for filing the report,” Frohlich said in her grievance statement, which was filed Friday.

After repeated performance reviews that were glowing, Frohlich said her latest evaluation was more critical, though the reasons for her lower scores were not well documented, except for her failure to complete certain safety courses.

“My performance record is an open book,” Frohlich said in an interview Monday. “I’ve received good to excellent performance reviews that entire time,” since she was hired seven years ago.

“There’s no basis or documentation to support it,” she said of the lower evaluation scores in her most recent evaluation, which she received at the end of June.

“The only conclusion I can draw is that of reprisal,” she added.

In her complaint, Frohlich said she understood another employee was considering filing a retaliation grievance, but she did not name the employee.

Klipfel said he has not yet been able to review Frohlich’s grievance, and therefore could not offer a comment Monday. Policy allows up to five working days to review a grievance.

“We will review the material submitted by Barb, gather additional information and conduct an investigation according to our process,” he said in a statement.

If deemed necessary, an investigation must be completed within 30 days of the complaint. If no investigation is deemed necessary, a decision is due in 15 days.

Frohlich said her supervisor pointedly asked her what she was talking about with WSI’s medical director, Dr. Luis Vilella, following news reports that appeared in The Forum in February about her allegations involving the deleted record and a report that Vilella had twice been pressured to alter his medical reviews.

After the altercation, Klipfel wrote Frohlich to inform her that her supervisor, Thomas Solberg, director of medical services, had received a formal warning for his conduct and said the agency does not condone the behavior that she had described.

The deleted record at the center of Frohlich’s complaint involved an injured worker’s claim for mental health symptoms suffered from a workplace injury.

The worker has since said the record would have been helpful in challenging denial of certain benefits for ongoing problems associated with his injury.

via Whistleblower at WSI claims agency retaliated | INFORUM | Fargo, ND.

Midwest Sugar-Beet Workers Reject Contract – WSJ.com

A majority of union members voted down American Crystal Sugar Co.’s contract for a third time on Saturday.

According to Mark Froemke a representative from the American Federation of Labor, 63% of the union members who voted opted to reject it.

“The workers’ voice was loud and clear.…I hope it means that American Crystal Sugar and the union can sit down, negotiate and come to a reasonable conclusion to this 11-month walkout,” said Mr. Froemke, 56 years old. “We as workers needed to send a message that we will not be browbeaten into a substandard contract.”

American Crystal Sugar Co. Chairman Robert Green, 58, who owns a beet, wheat and navy-bean farm in North Dakota, said that the company will continue to move forward after Saturday’s vote.

“We are quite happy with the new workforce, and they are learning the job. We think they’ll do just fine,” Mr. Green said Saturday evening.

Corrections & Amplifications

Union members voted down American Crystal Sugar Co.’s contract for a third time on Saturday. An earlier version of this article and summary said the vote was Sunday.

via Midwest Sugar-Beet Workers Reject Contract – WSJ.com.

Midwest Sugar-Beet Workers Hold Contract Vote – WSJ.com

Locked-out union workers at the nation’s largest sugar-beet processor with operations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa will vote Saturday on a contract proposal that would change seniority rules and require its 1,300 members to pay more for health care.

It will be the third time members have voted on a contract over a nearly 11-month standoff that has divided towns up and down the Red River Valley, where making sugar from the red root vegetable is the economic lifeblood.

The offer from the 39-year-old co-operative, owned by some 3,000 farmers who raise beets on 500,000 acres, calls for a 4% pay increase for the first year, 3% increase in the second and 2% in the third year.

Company leaders acknowledge they are attempting to adjust what they consider an archaic labor contract with newer standards that are competitive with other union rates, according to Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of administration at American Crystal Sugar Co.

Workers say they are surprised by the lack of compromise from the leadership, according to Mark Froemke, a representative from the American Federation of Labor.

“The leaders are more focused on the long-term view and want the company to be around for their grandchildren,” said Mr. Ingulsrud, who began working at the cooperative as a financial analyst 21 years ago. “The [proposed] labor contract is going to help.”

“This lockout hasn’t been good for anybody,” counters Mr. Froemke, who operated machines at American Crystal Sugar for nearly 30 years. His wife, who managed a store-room as a foreman, remains on lockout. “It’s an important vote on Saturday, and it will determine the direction of the union in either accepting the contract or rejecting it.”

Saturday’s vote comes as organized labor faces serious challenges across the country and especially in the Midwest.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently survived a recall vote prompted by his fight to rein in collective-bargaining rights of most state employees. That move inspired other labor battles in Ohio, where voters repealed a law limiting collective-bargaining rights last November, and in Indiana, which operates under a right-to-work law signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in February.

Meanwhile, nearly 800 union members in Caterpillar Inc.’s Joliet plant have been on strike since May 1. The company says it has exhausted the negotiation process and is focusing on running the facility with a contingent workforce.

“Caterpillar claims they exhausted the bargaining process, but in reality, they blocked meaningful negotiations from the start with take-it-or-leave-it proposals that guaranteed a strike,” said Frank Larkin, a spokesman for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the workers.

With more than $1 billion in sales, American Crystal has been thriving, says Chairman Robert Green, 58, who owns a beet, wheat and navy bean farm in North Dakota. “We are neighbors with many of the workers, so it was important to many of us that we come to a good agreement,” he said.

Workers rejected the proposal by a wide margin last summer, citing the increase in health-care costs, the elimination of seniority and changes to the grievance procedure.

The company locked out workers on Aug. 1 and hired 750 replacement workers. Efforts to resolve the dispute with help of a federal mediator have been unsuccessful.

The impact of the lockout extends beyond the factory floor. Small-town businesses in the region have seen a drop in sales and neighbors have noted rising tensions at the grocery store.

For Mark Voxland, 62, the mayor of Moorhead, Minn., where the co-op is based, it’s an added hurdle to motivating the community.

“No matter how it ends, it will be a hard wound to heal,” said Mr. Voxland.

via Midwest Sugar-Beet Workers Hold Contract Vote – WSJ.com.

The Associated Press: Locked-out union workers consider Crystal contract

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — For nearly 11 months, they picketed in sub-zero temperatures, marched on company headquarters, prayed with religious leaders and traveled 200 miles on a hay wagon. Now, the locked-out union workers at American Crystal Sugar Co. will decide whether they’re tired of walking and talking.

The union has scheduled a third vote Saturday on a contract that triggered the first labor impasse in 30 years at the largest sugar beet processor in the country.

On Aug. 1, American Crystal kicked out about 1,300 workers in what a vice president called a proactive move.

Experts say it’s a successful strategy that has become popular with employers throughout the country, with 17 lockouts in 2011. Robert Combs, a researcher for Bloomberg BNA, reports that the percentage of lockouts to work stoppages was greater in 2010-11 (nearly 10 percent) than between 2000-2009 (5.5 percent) and 1990-1999 (4 percent).

“Lockouts, which were once fairly rare, are the epitome of employer attempts to control bargaining and be on the offensive,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “I see this as a continuation of the trend toward increased employer militancy in collective bargaining.”

American Crystal spokesman Brian Ingulsrud said the lockout was a business decision based upon the start of the beet processing season. The company also says the contract — twice rejected by overwhelming margins — is a good one.

“We felt that we couldn’t allow the union to be in a position to strike at any time once we started the processing campaign,” Ingulsrud said. “We felt very vulnerable with that position. Once the beets are harvested, it’s critical that the factories are running and continuing to process those beats. They’re perishable items.”

The company has been using replacement workers at plants in East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Crookston and Chaska, Minn.; Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D.; and Mason City, Iowa.

Early on, union representatives for the sugar workers argued about health care and benefits, but have since focused on seniority and job security. After the last negotiating session led by a federal mediator on June 8, the company issued a press release that said, “The parties remain far apart.”

Mark Froemke, a Crystal Sugar employee and union member for nearly 35 years, believes the animosity between workers and management is at an all-time high. Attacks on labor stretch from coast to coast and corporations have decided to “strike while the iron is hot,” he said.

“When you get hit 75 different ways that unions are bad, that unions get things that other people don’t get, it’s easy for people to believe that the unions, instead of being part of the solution, are part of the problem,” Froemke said.

Chaison said employers first attempted to control bargaining in the 1980s by demanding wage and benefit givebacks, as well as wage freezes. That trend abated in the 1990s, but started up again with “increased vigor” at the turn of the century, he said.

“Employers were making demands in bargaining, and all that unions could do was react and often agree to wage freezes or cuts, or reduced benefits in order to avoid layoffs,” Chaison said.

Workers in Minnesota received news recently that unemployment benefits scheduled to run out Sunday will likely be extended for another 14 weeks. But unlike Minnesota and Iowa, there’s no unemployment insurance in North Dakota.

“I’m very proud of the way people have hung in there,” said John Riskey, president of one of the labor unions that represents the workers. “We’re still moving ahead and giving it the best we can.”

Should the union approve the contract Saturday, Ingulsrud said the two sides would need to iron out a “back to work” agreement, which he describes as “relatively straightforward.”

If it is rejected, Ingulsrud said the company would continue to train replacement workers, which is happening in advance of the next processing season. The plants will likely start up in the middle of August, which is earlier than normal because of a large sugar beet crop.

Riskey and Froemke declined to offer predictions about Saturday’s union vote.

“I’m not going down the road. Let the people decide,” Riskey said.

Froemke instead spoke to the character of his fellow union members.

“Their courage and their dedication to their beliefs should never be pooh-poohed or considered a foolish cause,” he said.

via The Associated Press: Locked-out union workers consider Crystal contract.