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Employees return to work after 2-year contract dispute

In many instances, employee unions represent Minnesota workers as a collective force, which may increase bargaining power and sway companies to meet the requests of their staff. There are times, however, when contract negotiations and other employment law conversations deteriorate and workers face serious consequences. After being prohibited from working for almost two years because of contract disputes, some Minnesota employees are faced with doing their old jobs even though they may be less than satisfied.

In August 2011, American Crystal Sugar barred close to 1,300 union employees from working. The company replaced the regular staff with temporary workers, while over 1,000 employees were suddenly left to seek other work. The mass lockout was allegedly the result of a series of unsuccessful contract negotiations between the employee union and the company.

After finally voting in favor of a new contract, the company is inviting employees back to work; though, not without anticipating the possibility of retaliation and other employment disputes. In fact, the employer specifies that union workers must refrain from mistreating temporary workers when they return to their old jobs. Similarly, there seems to be concern that some returning employees may destroy company property.

In an effort to promote good will between the ranks of new and old employees, the company expects to sponsor events. Though, almost half of the original staff that was locked out will not be returning. Many either retired or resigned after being forced out of work.

Those coming back to work will return to their old positions, and most are expected to begin in around six weeks. It may take time for workers to trust the company again. It is also possible that incidents of harassment and/or discrimination may arise between the union workers and replacement staff.       

Source: GrandForksHerald.com, “Crystal workers headed back to jobs, but resentments linger,” Dave Olson, April 22, 2013

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