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Replacement American Crystal workers driven to and from work in vans with tinted windows

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. - A few hundred non-union workers are replacing American Crystal Sugar Co. employees during the lockout that started Monday, though details are scarce about who those workers are.

Security guards were posted at entrances to a plant in East Grand Forks, and union employees have been told to not cross a line that was spray-painted outside the doors. Union representative Mark Froemke said about 120 workers were turned away Sunday night and Monday morning at the East Grand Forks plant.

Replacement workers were driven to and from work in vans with tinted windows, local union president Roger Delage said.

Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of administration for American Crystal, said a subcontracting company hired the out-of-town workers to continue operations, mainly packing and loading sugar.

Strom Engineering from Minnetonka, Minn., is the company that hired the replacements, according to Delage. A phone message was left at Strom Engineering Monday afternoon seeking confirmation.

Although American Crystal accounts for 38 percent of the country's production of sugar from beets and 15 percent overall, the company said it doesn't believe the lockout will affect sugar production or industry outlook. Ingulsrud said experienced workers are coming in from around the country and many will receive additional training.

The union disagreed that employees were easily replaceable.

"The jobs we do, it's not rocket science, nor are we brain surgeons," Froemke said Monday. "But the jobs we do in the factory are very skillful jobs. I just don't believe they are going to be able to run five factories with transient workers who have never been in a sugar factory."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lisa Gulya writes for the Grand Forks Herald