Tensions high on American Crystal picket line
GRAND FORKS - Tensions continue to rise as the ongoing labor dispute between American Crystal Sugar Co. and its locked-out union workers shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Allegations of racial slurs and racist symbols directed at replacement workers and security personnel contracted by American Crystal have been leveled against union supporters picketing outside the company's plants.
Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker confirmed that "there have been racial statements made to security people" outside the company's Hillsboro plant.
Crocker also said he recently saw a monkey-like figure hanging from a noose attached to a large inflatable rat outside the plant. He said that by the next day the monkey and the noose had been removed. A photo of the scene has also been circulating on the Internet.
Many of the replacement workers contracted by the company through Minnetonka, Minn.-based Strom Engineering are from Southern states, and some are minorities.
Crocker said he has also heard that some outside the Hillsboro plant were dressed in white sheets reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan members several weeks ago, but he said he couldn't confirm if the incident happened. He said the Traill County Sheriff's Office hasn't received any complaints about the picketing workers.
Union spokesman Mark Froemke said he has heard similar stories but that he doesn't have any firsthand knowledge if the incidents actually occurred - and if they did, if those involved were indeed union workers. Froemke said that type of behavior is "totally unacceptable."
"It is not something that the union will accept in any way," he said. "The union will not put up with any kind of racism. When you are dealing with 1,300 people, are all of them going to be pure of heart and pure of soul? Absolutely not. The union has emphasized to its members that these transient workers come in all colors. It is beneath the dignity of you as a person to use the racist card."
Froemke defended the use of the inflatable rat that has been placed outside the company's plants in East Grand Forks, Drayton and Hillsboro - but not the monkey figure or the noose.
"In the building codes, a rat is a non-union contractor," Froemke said. "Having a rat out there is just saying they have rat contractors there doing our work."
Ryan Schuster writes for the Grand Forks Herald