MASON CITY — Twenty-three Mason City sugar plant workers were locked out of the American Crystal Sugar plant on Monday after negotiations broke down on Sunday.
The local is one of seven affected by the contract breakdown. The Mason City labor force is a small part of the estimated 1,300 workers in plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
The seven-year contract expired at midnight, said BCTGM Local 269G President Tom Johanns.
A lockout was initiated because without a contract no labor force can be allowed on the premises, Johanns said.
“I guess management is running things inside,” he said.
Johanns was one of half a dozen workers who publicized and protested the lockout just outside the plant on 300th Street, just off Highway 65 north of Mason City.
American Sugar Co. is based in Moorhead, Minn. According to The Associated Press, replacement workers arrived before dawn at some locations on Monday.
The Mason City plant is the only one in Iowa. The local plant is a bulk sugar storage and distribution facility.
“There is no incentive to sit back down” in the current contract proposal, Johanns said.
He said that of the 97 percent of workers in seven plants voting on the plan, 96 percent rejected it.
American Crystal, the largest beet sugar processor in the U.S., had offered a 17 percent pay increase over five years but workers were upset about provisions covering job security and health care costs.
Yet, workers said, sugar sales are up and management earned a 28 percent increase.
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 the industry outlook.
Brian Ingulsrud, vice president for administration, said experienced workers are coming in from around the country and many will receive additional training.
“We don’t intend to miss a beat,” Ingulsrud said.
The union disagreed that employees were easily replaceable.
“The jobs we do, it’s not rocket science nor are we brain surgeons,” union representative Mark 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.”
Despite the high heat and humidity, the workers plan around-the-clock protests at the site.
Besides Mason City, the company has plants in East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Crookston and Chaska, Minn., and in Hillsboro and Drayton, N.D. No replacement workers were seen in Mason City.
The Associated Press and Globe Gazette Online Editor Arian Schuessler contributed to this article.