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North Dakota legislators deny benefits to locked out American Crystal Sugar workers

Since American Crystal Sugar locked out union workers on Aug. 1, about 420 workers living in North Dakota have been denied unemployment benefits under state law. A proposal to allow the North Dakota residents to receive unemployment was killed in a committee of the North Dakota legislature Monday. The proposal was being considered for the legislature’s special session but three Republicans on the committee opposed the bill.

State Sen. Terry Wanzek (R-Jamestown) told the Fargo Forum that the legislature needs to keep its focus on other issues: “It almost feels as if I’m being asked to choose sides.”

North Dakota AFL-CIO President Gary Granzotto and Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 167G President John Riskey released a joint statement criticizing the decision to block the bill.

“Workers at the Drayton and Hillsboro American Crystal Sugar plants have been forced off the job by their employer,” Granzotto and Riskey wrote. “These workers did not walk off the job; they have been locked out of their place of work.”

Workers who live in Minnesota are eligible for unemployment benefits if they’re locked out of their jobs.

“It’s time that North Dakota recognize the difference between a strike and a lockout,” they said. “It’s unfortunate that these North Dakotans are being treated differently than others in our state who have lost their jobs.”

About 1,300 workers have been locked out of their jobs at American Crystal Sugar since Aug. 1. They recently rejected the company’s most recent offer by 90 percent.

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