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American Crystal Sugar workers pray for end to lockout

Locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers sing at a prayer vigil Wednesday in front of the corporate offices in Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

MOORHEAD - The fall of a light snow and winter temperatures was not enough to cool the spirits of locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers Wednesday night during a prayer vigil outside corporate offices.

The more than 100 workers and their families held candles on the darkened corner near Moorhead Center Mall as they sang, prayed for an end to the lockout and huddled together to keep warm.

One of the songs, "We Will Overcome" included the lyrics, "We are not a cancer," a reference to the claim that Crystal President and CEO Dave Berg "likened the workers to a 21-pound cancerous tumor."

John Riskey, president of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 167G union said Wednesday the vigil was held not just to send a message of solidarity to Crystal but for the 1,300 workers as well.

"It's one more way to show we are not alone," Riskey said.

Today marks four months since the lockout began.

Lydia Schreiner of Moorhead said she stopped by to show her support for the workers. Her husband has been a Crystal employee for more than 30 years.

Religious leaders from four area churches spoke of their support for workers and led them in prayer.

"I stand here today in solidarity with you," Rev. Alexis Twito of Trinity Lutheran Church said.

Gayln Olson, a longtime employee of Crystal said the lockout has been hard for families and it will continue to be difficult with the holiday season approaching. As he spoke, employees, friends and family members welcomed each other to the vigil with hugs, handshakes and thank-you's to those who could make it.

Union representatives encouraged workers to attend Saturday's stakeholder meeting, where Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to speak. The stakeholder meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in Minnesota State University Moorhead's Comstock Memorial Union at 2 p.m.

Mark Froemke, American Crystal Sugar worker, said, "We're going to push this thing until we're back to work."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530