TruthToTell, Mon., Dec 26 @9AM: HUNGER BOOK / STADIUM PETITION; TTT Dec 19: CRYSTAL SUGAR LOCKOUT: No Sweet Deal on the Table

Over more tha five years, CivicMedia and KFAI have brought you over 300 conversations about the critical issues our communities face on a daily and weekly basis in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Now, as 2011 comes to a close, you can score a year-end tax deduction by donating to our parent CivicMedia-Minnesota, and we'll do an even better job, we know.





A series of Christmas stories published and sold as a way of beefing up the fight against hunger in Minnesota plus a brief chat with the leader of a petition to stop Ramsey County’s pursuit of a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills are our post-Christmas/end-of-Chanukah discussions come Monday.



The Christmas stories, penned over several years by St. Paul author and education activist Roger Barr, center on the Bartholomews of St. Paul and the odyssey their family crèche endures each year, including its partial destruction at least one year. We follow Matt, Deidre, Allison and Christopher Bartholomew as well as Matt’s brother, Tim, through their Christmas adventures in Barr’s book, Getting Ready for Christmas and Other Stories – twelve others, to be exact, over a 13-Christmas period. Things said and unsaid over the years pile up toward the end until everything spills out to reveal histories for both Matt and Deidre neither had addressed, despite the years and two children spent together.

Barr is putting all the receipts of the book’s sales toward the Emergency Food Shelf Network and the quest to provide 100,000 meals to EFSN and toward eradicating hunger. We talk about the plague of hunger in this most prosperous of countries where the imbalance between the rich and everyone else grows greater every day, felt most acutely as these holiday season come ‘round yet again and very little has been done thus far.


We, the undersigned registered voters in Ramsey County, hereby petition the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners for the purpose of enacting an ordinance, as follows:

Ramsey County shall be prohibited from making expenditures, incurring debt, or entering into any agreement, directly or indirectly, related to a stadium on the TCAAP* site in Arden Hills.

Advancing an initiative petition for an ordinance preventing Ramsey County from taxing county residents to finance a Vikings stadium on the former US Army ammunition plant site in Arden Hills is Ady Wickstrom, a current councilmember in the nearby suburb of Shoreview. She’s not alone in her quest. Other councilmembers and mayors in other Ramsey County municipalities, St. Paul included, support the initiative of NoStadiumTax, which would, if the proper number of signatures are collected and verified, be placed on the 2012 election ballot.

A slim majority of the Ramsey County Board has been pushing a $1.2 billion combination development deal with Minnesota Vikings ownership to clean and fill that polluted site with an entertainment, hospitality and residential complex, including a massive stadium with moveable roof. First, they proposed a .5% increase in local sales taxes (with nothing from other Metro counties), which was dead on arrival in both the Governor’s office and the Legislature. Now comes a proposal to tax food and beverages a 3% tax to fund the county share, a preliminary approval coming last week by a 4-3 vote.

Ramsey County is the only one of Minnesota’s 87 counties with a home rule charter of its own – the county’s version of a municipal constitution – and, as such, its governance is subject not just to state law, but to its own specific code of laws county voters approved some 15 years ago, right after legislators gave counties the option of doing so.

The charter allows for initiative, referendum and recall (I&R) – the three legs of citizen democracy usually exercised when elected officials, in this case the county board of commissioners, are viewed as unresponsive to the public will. The Ramsey Countyinitiative process is convoluted – much more so than in many states. Ady Wickstrom will explain it to us, but her job and that of her supporters is to secure signatures from Ramsey County registered voters equal to 10 percent of those who voted for President of the United States in the last general election. 27,817 signatures are required this time around, given the Presidential votes of 2008. Several steps intervene first, including a chance for the County Board vote to pass it themselves. Not likely. The primary movers on the Board, Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega, are unavailable Monday, but we’ll re-visit this item when things heat up over the next several months.


 HUNGER: ROGER BARR – Fiction and Nonfiction Writer; Playwright; Author, Getting Ready for Christmas and Other StoriesExecutive Director, Support Our Schools

 STADIUM PETITION: ADY WICKSTROM –  Shoreview City Councilmember; past president, Arden Hills/Shoreview Rotary; Leading the NoStadiumTax initiative


TruthToTell, Mon., Dec 19 @9AM: CRYSTAL SUGAR LOCKOUT: No Sweet Deal on the Table - AUDIO HERE

This final week before Christmas brings into sharper relief than usual the plight of giant Red River cooperative American Crystal Sugar’s lockout of its 1,300 workers – still going as it has since August 1, the day after the members of the consolidated union, Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), rejected the company’s final offer by a 96% margin. Talks are suspended, despite Governor Mark Dayton's letter offering to help with negotiations. The company did not respond and a federal mediator asked that the Governor not be involved. Crystal has plants in both Minnesota and North Dakota.

This is a break with the long company tradition of cooperation between the long-time farmer-owned sugar beet processing co-op and its organized workers. This was hardly the time to leave the bargaining table, but American Crystal Sugar’s management, especially President/CEO Dave Berg and his chief administrative VP, Brian Ingulsrud, have decided, they say, to go with replacement workers, all of them nonunion and inexperienced, according to insiders.


Lockouts appear to be the coming thing as a way to pressure already stressed workers into caving into company demands that wage cuts, health care burdens and reduced pensions all be accepted as concessions to the lousy economic times the company claims are stifling profits. It seems contrary to reports since the lockout began that American Crystal enjoys record profits after a banner crop of sugar beets and significant contracts for their sugar product as well as a fair jump in pay granted to senior executives.

The issues here are rippling across Minnesota and North Dakota as unemployment compensation benefits dry up for the Minnesota-side workers. North Dakota’s workers remain out of work without unemployment benefits because of the definition that state’s laws give the type of work stoppage at American Crystal.

Fewer and fewer American workers are creating the goods and performing the services we consume. Most of the core work of this society is being shipped elsewhere, reducing real income and economic stability for those left behind. Like the P-9 union working for Hormel Meats in Austin, the sugar workers and the farmers who own Crystal Sugar for decades enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. This is disintegrating in the current climate, a climate that leads to statements like that uttered by Crystal CEO in effect, they say, likening the workers to “a 21-pound cancerous tumor.”

As unions membership diminishes and strikes and lockouts have left even fewer workers members of unions, rank and file workers and their leadership have shown a willingness to ignore long-term effects of their work on environments and health as long as work is created.

“Jobs!” has become the rallying cry for conservatives and corporations insisting that if government and workers fail to yield to demanded concessions and bailouts, everyone will be out of a job. This sort of thing scares politicians and a jobless workforce into conceding and redirecting wealth to the already wealthy. In fact, more union members are voting for Republicans or Tea Party candidates these days than their traditional cheerleading Democrats.

What are the issues causing such a serious split between this huge cooperative and its workers? Is it possible to resolve this dispute as long as a lockout is allowed and replacement workers hired? What is the definition of a cooperative like Crystal Sugar? (Land-O-Lakes, Cenex and Great River Energy are also large coops.) The BCTGM is a consolidation of several unions seeking strength in numbers. Where is that strength in the face of the company’s lockout tactic?

Where will this take us? Have corporations grown so large and powerful and unions less and less relevant that fair resolution of labor stoppages is less likely now and later?

TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and guest co-host PROF. TOM O’CONNELL will ask this week’s guests these questions and more.


MARK FROEMKE – President, AFL-CIO West Minnesota Area Labor Council and Representative of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union

NIEL RITCHIE – Executive Director, League of Rural Voters

Our attempts to invite American Crystal Sugar executives CEO DAVE BERG and Vice President of Administration BRIAN INGULSRUD were unsuccessful.