Peterson Says Crystal Talks Good News, Union May Be Adjusting Language

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a champion of the sugar industry as ranking member on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, said it is “good news” that the two sides are planning to meet. He had not contacted the Federal Mediation and Conciliation, but didn’t know whether Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., may have.

“What we’ve been encouraging is that they get back to the table and get this stuff worked out,” Peterson says, of his own efforts. He says nothing could get resolved if the two sides weren’t talking.

Peterson says he’s been talking – company board members, union people and management – to encourage a resolution. Some of those conversations were as late as Aug. 23.

Peterson says it is difficult for outsiders to really know the key issues in the matter. “From what I can tell is the issue is on management have control over who gets what job, and being able to hire outside people,” he says. He had encouraged the union to come up some language that allows management its needed flexibility but also “tighten” what the union is concerned about.

He says the company has claimed it takes too long – as many as two weeks – to make decisions because of needed union negotiations. The union, on the other hand, says 95 percent of the issues are resolved “in 15 minutes,” Peterson says, acknowledging it is difficult to judge. He said he thought the union was planning to “come forward with some changes” as of Wednesday morning. It isn’t known whether this had an impact on the Aug. 25 talks.

Peterson, who is the ranking member of the agriculture committee and a key defender of policies beneficial to the sugar industry, said some growers had been calling him “worried this (labor issue) would jeopardize authorization of the farm bill,” which is coming up in 2012.

“Nothing like that has happened so far,” Peterson says. “As long as we get this resolved in the next month or two I don’t think that’ll be a problem. If it drags on into the winter, it could be a problem.”

American Crystal Sugar Vice President of Administration Brian Ingulsrud would only confirm that a meeting had been scheduled, but declined to say whether it was a negotiation, or only a meeting to determine whether negotiations would be useful.