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Locked-out American Crystal workers mistrust management, replacements

News From Greater Minnesota

Ryan Schuster of the Grand Forks Herald spent some time with the workers picketing the American Crystal Sugar plant in East Grand Forks. He came away with some good quotes:

On union solidarity: “I don’t mind being out here,” said Dave Bakke, a 32-year veteran of the East Grand Forks plant. “I’m not only out here for myself, I’m out here for everybody else, too.”

On replacement workers: “It’s disgusting,” said locked-out union worker Scott Ripplinger. “They’re coming up here and taking our jobs. I could never work at a job where another man was locked out of or even on strike. I would never take another person’s job. Never.”

On financial problems: “We’ll be alright,” said Jonathan Straub, an instrumentation technician at the East Grand Forks plant. “I’ve had to take even more money that was squirreled away out to the point it is getting close to nothing, depending on how long this lasts. For now, everything is pretty well riding on the line.”

For those who need a refresher, the union says the company wants contract language that would allow it to contract out some current union-represented jobs. American Crystal officials say the language would prevent them from subcontracting work done by union workers. For their part, workers on the picket line say they don’t trust the company and worry the current language could strip away collective bargaining rights for some positions.

Duluth track standout Matt Kero, 18, was found dead in his home about 7 a.m. Monday. He apparently died in his sleep. The Duluth News Tribune wrote that Kero qualified for three Minnesota Class AA meets for the Duluth Denfeld High School cross country team, finishing as Northeastern Minnesota’s top entrant last fall as a senior. He planned to attend St. Scholastica this fall and run cross country. “I can’t put into words what a competitor he was and how good of a person he was. He was one of a kind,” said Denfeld junior Neal Kucera, a member of the cross country team. “He was a mentor for me, and, anything you needed, he was there to help.” Kero, who worked in the West Duluth Super One produce department, was a cross country letterman for five years, team MVP the last three years and on the All-Lake Superior Conference team four times. He was also a Denfeld hockey varsity defenseman and ran on the track team. No cause of death has been determined although an autopsy will be performed. Services have not yet been finalized. Survivors include parents, Tom and Mary, and sisters, Katie, 21, and Jessica, 15.

School started Monday in 25 southwest Minnesota school districts. It’s the second year of the Flexible Learning Year schedule and Jenny Kirk of the Marshall Independent says superintendents are happy with the results. The chief reason for the FLY is to improve student achievement as measured by the state standardized test, but since the program has been in operation for only one year, more data is needed. In the meantime, almost everybody likes having school start early, the superintendents say. Loy Woelber, superintendent at Westbrook-Walnut Grove and Tracy Area Public Schools, said the natural semester break at Christmas was good, as was finishing school before the May heat wave. Lakeview Superintendent Chris Fenske said students in sports were ready to start school at the same time they started practice, and aligning the district’s schedule to Southwest Minnesota State University’s schedule helped with high school classes offered for college credit. Canby superintendent Loren Hacker said he received thank-you notes from parents because their kids got summer jobs. Having to miss school to attend the State Fair made up the bulk of negative comments, though schools treat the absences like family vacations. One other concern was the slighting of spring sports. “With schools out of session, they don’t quite get the recognition they deserve,” Hacker said.

Duluth tourism tax collections are on the rise, which tickles city officials. Candace Renalls of the News Tribune reports that Duluth tourism is seeing a very good year. “From January to June, monthly hotel/motel sales tax receipts were up 10 percent to 17 percent. Food/beverage showed moderate to significant hikes of 3 percent to nearly 7 percent compared to the first six months of 2010. By the end of June, year-to-date tax coffers were up 8 percent,” she wrote. While much of the increase is due to a better economy, economic uncertainty benefits Duluth tourism as well. “More people are relying on little mini-vacations than bigger exotic vacations,” said city treasurer Brian Hansen. “Duluth does well with the mini-vacations.”

Minnesota State University Moorhead has converted all its dorms to co-ed facilities, reports Amy Dalrymple of the Fargo Forum. Dahl Hall, a traditionally female hall, will become co-ed to give all students a chance to live in an upgraded facility. Ballard Hall, which has been all-male, will now have women living in one wing to give women more access to the number of single rooms. All of MSUM’s other halls are already co-ed. Classes began Monday at MSUM and Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

It’s off to Carolina for Minnesota icons Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Jennifer Stockinger of the Brainerd Dispatch tells the story of how Don McFarland had to sell his statues at the Paul Bunyan Bowl in Baxter. McFarland is the owner of the family business that once included the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, which was sold eight years ago. McFarland ran the amusement park for 25 years. It was originally opened in 1950 by his wife Patti’s family. The family business also owned the bowling alley and bar/restaurant, which are now closed. McFarland wouldn’t say how much the two statues sold for. A North Carolina company, Original Log Cabin Homes, bought the two statues. Owner Tom Vesce has a Paul Bunyan statue, but he always wanted the ox to go with it.

The Mexican consulate came to Austin last week to help Mexican citizens with their identification and passport issues, reports Trey Mewes in the Austin Daily HeraldAt least 100 people showed up at Queen of Angels Catholic Church to obtain their matricula consular (their Mexican ID) or get their Mexican passports, which they need to visit relatives in Mexico. “It’s really good for the Mexican government to support people here,” said Elda Contreras, administrative officer and part of the diplomatic staff at the Mexican consulate in St. Paul. People from as far as Iowa and Wisconsin came to get their documents in order. Also, representatives from the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota and the state’s Department Human Rights Department were present to discuss labor rights.

John Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist and longtime Minnesotan. He lives in Buffalo.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Susan Rego on 08/24/2011 - 10:31 am.

    Thanks to MinnPost for crossing the great divide and providing this new feature! On the Paul Bunyan story: I visited Baxter’s Paul Bunyanland almost every summer as a child. I can imagine Paul greeting the kiddies in a southern drawl.

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