Union praises decision awarding jobless benefits to locked-out workers By Barb Kucera



By Barb Kucera, Workday editor

28 February 2013


MINNEAPOLIS – A North Dakota Supreme Court decision awarding unemployment benefits to locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers will help families struggling to survive in the Red River Valley, union leaders said.
After Crystal Sugar locked out 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco & Grain Millers union in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa on Aug. 1, 2011, the employees applied for unemployment benefits.

Minnesota and Iowa awarded the benefits based on the fact the employees wanted to work, but were locked out by the company. North Dakota denied the benefits. Workers then filed an appeal through the courts.

This week, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the locked-out workers are entitled to benefits.

Justices Carol Ronning Kapsner and Mary Muehlen Maring, in a majority opinion written by Kapsner, said North Dakota law “only disqualifies claimants from unemployment compensation for employee-initiated work stoppages due to a labor dispute,” not people locked out by their employers.

Historically, lawmakers’ intent has been to bar workers who go on strike from getting unemployment benefits, they said.

Much-needed support
The state’s decision to deny benefits “was a misinterpretation of the law,” said Gayln Olson, president of BCTGM Local 372G, which represents workers at the Crystal Sugar factory in Hillsboro, N.D. “This decision shows sometimes justice does prevail.”

Since the lockout began, many of the workers have found other jobs, often at lower pay, Olson said. Some have traveled to western North Dakota to work in the booming oil industry, visiting their families in the Red River Valley when they can.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle for everybody,” he said. “I’m not going to say [this decision] is going to solve all the problems – it’s not like having two years’ of wages – but it’s going to help.”

About 420 people will benefit, Olson estimates. The majority were willing to work when the lockout occurred, but some were on disability and some were already laid off and eligible for unemployment benefits, but denied coverage when the lockout began.

American Crystal Sugar, the nation’s largest producer of sugar from beets, has continued operating during the lockout using replacement workers. No negotiations have been held with the union for several months.

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