North Dakota Supreme Court Gives Locked Out Crystal Workers Unemployment Benefits


In a ruling that boils down to North Dakota taxpayers subsidizing labor disputes, the North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that American Crystal union members are entitled to unemployment benefits.

Using some rather tortured linguistic acrobatics, the court’s majority somehow manages to conclude that “work stoppage dispute of any kind” somehow doesn’t mean a lockout.

“We therefore conclude the legislative history of N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) supports this Court’s interpretation that ‘a claimant’s work stoppage dispute of any kind’ does not include an employer initiated lockout,” reads the majority opinion.


It wasn’t a unanimous opinion (read it here). In dissent, Justice Sandtrom wrote that the majority opinion is “inconsistent with the purpose of the legislation under consideration.” Justice VandeWalle called the legislative intent “ambiguous.”

“This is a matter for the Legislature to resolve,” wrote VandeWalle in dissent.

The question is, will the legislature put in place bill to make the legislative intent clear? They should. Unions maintain strike funds to pay their workers during disputes. The unions shouldn’t be able to use unemployment benefits to subsidize their decision to reject a contract.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • nimrod

    This is the result of the legislature passing bills without thinking about the consequences. It looks to me like the court made the correct decision based on prior stupidity by the legislature. The split decision is because sometimes stupidity is hard to interpret. The current legislature could clean this up real nice, but they will most likely make it even worse.

    • Captjohn

      We thought the language was clear. If you have a problem it’s with the courts. What did you expect us to do include a description of every type of labor dispute. As I read it today it is clear what we meant and only an activist judiciary could interpret it any other way. Who are you people electing to the court?
      I hope present legislators are as upset as I am.

      • Matthew Hawkins

        Hire somebody who can write or understand what you are doing. First paragraph of the decision said that the decision said that the plain language of the law only applied to employee initiated work stoppages. If you wanted it to apply to owner initiated work stoppages you should have written that.

        Of course that never would have passed. Even most die hard conservatives wouldn’t pass a law that would say that an owner can lock out all his workers and they can’t get their unemployment benefits, which they have paid for.

        I really hope you are no longer trying to write law. You don’t seem to understand the concept.

        • camsaure

          Who paid for??!! The employer pays for it not the worker.

  • Captjohn

    I can’t believe it!!! I helped write that law. A review of the legislative history and notes from those committee hearings should have been clear to the judges. We intended not to pay for any type of labor dispute out of unemployment funds. This isn’t the first time the judges have tried to put their brand of social justice on a legislative action.
    I remember one time I read into the legislative record a clear statement. It basically said judges take this law literally we mean exactly what is in the text.
    It seems the legislature is going to have to do it again. There has to be a bill in the hopper dealing with that section of the Century Code that can be amended to send the judges an unequivocal message.
    I hope the voters remember which of the activist judges over rode legislative intent.
    The business lobby better fire up. They need to make sure the legislature deals with this. Then they best remember which of these judges clearly aren’t on the business side of the ledger.

    • whowon

      Seems like any time there is a judge on the ballot, they are not opposed. WTF.

    • Matthew Hawkins

      You really suck at writing laws if you don’t intend to give workers who are locked out unemployment benefits.

      The plain text of the law only exempt’s the “claimant’s labor dispute.” By definition a lockout is the owner’s labor dispute. The claimants want to work.

      You are the reason written laws suck. You didn’t than and you probably don’t know now what you were doing.

      It isn’t the judges fault that you can’t write.

      • camsaure

        Hey dumb a$$, they clearly had many chances to work and turned those chances down. What part of that don’t you or refuse to understand?

        • Matthew Hawkins

          Wow, maybe you should become a lawyer and argue for them. Until that happens you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.

          • camsaure

            Oh, Just because you immaturely PRETEND to be a lawyer, that makes you so knowledgeable about it. Everything that you have ever posted on this blog has been sucessfully shot down by better and smarter people then you. Oh yeah, what was that firm you supposedlywork for? LOL Wipe your nose now and then have mama check your diaper.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            I posted the actual law. That is why I am right. The law says I am right.

          • camsaure

            Hey idiot, there is a person on this thread that helped write it and he says that is not the intention at all. Just because some hacks on the court abuse their position and power does not make you right. You understand nothing about how the Govt is SUPPOSED to work and adhere to the meme that any action no matter how unscrupulus is OK in circumventing the will of the people and their lawfully elected representation. Better have your mama add a little extra baby powder this time , you’ve been sitting in your poop for a long time.

    • camsaure

      We need more recourse then that. Activist judges need to go, they are doing their own agenda, not the peoples or the states which is rather clearly described.

    • slackwarerobert

      Sadly you need to put it in the impeachment charges for them to get the message.

      • Rick Olson

        Impeachment is a rarely-used tool in North Dakota. In fact, there hasn’t been a state impeachment case in like 100 years. Judges of the state Supreme Court — as well as other members of the judiciary in this state — are subject to recall in that they are elected officials. If you feel the court’s ruling in this case rises to the level that they should be recalled over; then that is your right to pursue it. Your first contact on how to launch a recall petition, and what the legal requirements thereof are, would be the Secretary of State’s office.

        On the other hand, an impeachment case must take place while the Legislature is sitting. An impeachment case starts in the House of Representatives. A representative or representative files a resolution containing charges for the House Judiciary Committee to consider. Following investigation and hearings, the committee votes whether or not to recommend that articles of impeachment be passed by the full House. If the House votes by simple majority in favor of even one article of impeachment, then the matter goes to the Senate for an impeachment trial. Following testimony, introduction of evidence, etc. everything that would be done in a regular court trial; then the senators vote on the articles. A two thirds majority of the senators voting and present are required to convict and remove an official from office. Logistically, there is no way for the Legislature to handle an impeachment case at this late juncture, since the current session is already at the half way point and they have about 40 days left in which they can meet during this biennium. A recall would be a more expedient option.

    • camsaure

      Well sir, I hope you can help to get this clarified and remedied as soon as possible. This is an outrage and if hacks on the court do not get set straight right away they will feel free to steel more power and abuse our govt even more in the future.

  • WOOF

    The claimants of unemployment benefits are plainly not refusing
    to work, they are “locked out”.
    Bring on the plain text.

    • Rob

      The law says “any work stoppage dispute.”

      A lockout is a work stoppage dispute.

      • Matthew Hawkins

        Easiest way to dispute a nutters claim, look up the facts.

        The law does not say “any work stoppage dispute”, it says “claimant’s work stoppage dispute.” A lock out is not the claimant work stoppage dispute. By definition of a lock out the claimant is willing to work and the owner is keeping him from working.

        Here is the law you purport to quote:

        “4. For any week with respect to which it is found that the individual’s unemployment is due to a strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant’s work stoppage dispute of any kind which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which the individual is or was last employed; provided, that this subsection does not apply if it is shown that:

        a. The individual is not participating in or directly interested in the labor dispute which caused the strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant’s work stoppage dispute of any kind; and

        b. The individual does not belong to a grade or class of workers of which, immediately before the commencement of the stoppage, there were members employed at the premises at which the strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant’s work stoppage dispute of any kind occurs, any of whom are participating in or directly interested in the dispute; provided, that if in any case separate branches of work, which are commonly conducted as separate businesses in separate premises, are conducted in separate departments of the same premises, each such department must, for the purpose of this subsection, be deemed to be a separate factory, establishment, or other premises.”

        • realitybasedbob

          Be careful when showing fact to nutters.

          • Rob

            Neither you, nor Matthew, are.very concerned with facts.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            You misquoted the law, I corrected you to the point of posting the actual law.

            How am I not concerned with facts?

        • Rob

          Just so we are clear, one of the people who wrote that law is.commenting in this thread, and he doesn’t agree with you.

          But whi cares.about legislative intent when you can nust pretend words meam something else.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            He wrote it poorly than. The clear meaning of the law does not mean that claimants cannot get unemployment during lockouts.

          • JoeMN

            Union workers collective action to reject a contract is a refusal to work

            Unemployment benefits are meant for those who through no action on their part, unexpectedly lost their jobs.

            The words “lock out” are meaningless to this discussion because it was the union which took the pertinent action here by rejecting the contract first.
            If those replacement workers were to suddenly be turned out on account of a sudden contract agreement, would the union be screaming bloody murder if they were unable to collect unemployment ?
            Doling out benefits to workers who could have accepted a contract, (or several) and refused, come at the expense of those who are working by costing even more in UI premiums.

          • JoeMN

            The intent of the law was clearly to provide bennies to those (through no action on their part, union or non) to not be denied benefits because they also lost their jobs thanks to the actions of the offending union.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            The words “lock out” are not meaningless. It legally defines the situation.

            I understand you don’t like it, but I don’t care.

            If the replacement workers were turned out the union would be happy and would not support them in any way. They are not part of the union.

            BTW I would support the replacement workers. I think they should get unemployment benefits. But of course you wouldn’t. You would say “fuck them, why should I pay for anything.’

          • JoeMN

            Employing foul and/or abusive language violates my terms of debate.

            I will simply declare victory now, and move on.

            Good day.

          • Matthew Hawkins


            You should declare victory by actually understanding the issues and providing valid argument, which you didn’t.

          • camsaure

            Is the little juvenile having “potty mouth” problems now?

          • Drain52

            There was a lockout, which was the direct result of the employees’ refusal to sign a new contract. Anyone working beyond a contract ending date works at the pleasure of the employer. By analogy, if Crystal Sugar’s contract with a given trucking firm lapsed because the firm refused Crystal’s new terms, and thus Crystal refused further business with that firm, you could call it a “lockout” but really it’s a case of contract rejection.

          • devilschild

            At the time it was written he probably didn’t realize that someday down the road a large corporation would lock out 1300 of their workers..but they did and justice was served in this case.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          Wow, the first paragraph of the decision agrees with me.

          “Claimants appeal a district court judgment affirming Job Service North
          Dakota’s decision denying them unemployment benefits. Because the plain language of N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) only disqualifies claimants from unemployment compensation for employee initiated work stoppages due to alabor dispute, it does not apply to the locked out Claimants. We reverse the district court’s judgment affirming Job Service’s benefit denial and remand to Job Service for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

          • camsaure

            Are you sure that you are not just a transgendered Susan, or is Susan actually you in drag? Which is it?

        • slackwarerobert

          Wouldn’t voting against the contract make them participants in the in the dispute? As for the lunatic ‘b’ Just try and claim every department is it’s own factory when you file with the IRS. If this was the case they would need their own licenses to operate, so are shut down by the city for not having the proper paperwork. So not the employers fault.

      • devilschild

        This was a management stoppage Rob. Dave Berg and his crew prevented the workers from going to work. This never needed to happen. It’s about time ACSC was held accountable for this atrocity.

  • Kevin Flanagan

    This is evidence that all three branches of state government protect their fellow slackers. The war against those of us in the productive private sector escalates.

    • slackwarerobert

      Not just state, remember our new obamacare tax that the courts wrote themselves. Just got my letter from senator confirming this and I don’t see the impeachment hearings on the house itinerary after 6 months now. This is evidence of why they are desperate to take our guns though.

  • Simon

    Interpreting legislative intent is a constant problem. It would be helpful if legislators would express their intent in clear written format (how about the law itself?). But it seems they’re always in a big hurry and too busy pandering to special interest groups, who want laws passed before anybody figures out what they mean. Then they leave Bismarck at the end of the session, patting themselves and each other on the back for the wonderful job they’ve done. Any screw ups can wait until the next session.

  • Rick Olson

    It’s not the right decision, unfortunately, unless the Legislature adopts legislation to specifically void the North Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling; it is unfortunately the law of the land. It seems to me that the locked out workers made their own beds…they must now sleep in them.

    • Matthew Hawkins

      It is the right decision. Being locked out is not substantially different from being laid off. It is the employer’s decision.

      • camsaure

        Hey dipsh== they rejected how many chances to go back to work? It was even upheld by the feds.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          Well maybe American Crystal should have better lawyers.

          This is legally a lock out.

          And I really don’t care about anything else.

          • Thresherman

            Their contract had expired and so they were no longer ACS employees. ACS offered them a final deal and they rejected it prior to the contract expiring. Every single one of them knew that on August 1 there were no longer going to be employees if there was no contract. It was not a lock out because they were no longer employees.

          • camsaure

            It’s easy to confuse children with the truth. Right little Matty?

          • headward

            It was Job Service that was sued since they made the decision. Try to keep up.

  • spud

    So what kind of money are we talking here. Bottom line if they can collect from the beginning we are looking at how much money they can receive. Never saw this coming as I thought our law was iron clad but then again interpretation is a fickle sister.

  • Dakotacyr

    You convenient.y left out “claimant” work stoppage. The language is clear in its face and the court came to the right decision. $4 million owed by Crystal. Ouch

    • headward

      Crystal doesn’t owe them anything. This comes out of the taxpayers for the freeloaders. I wish I could tell my job that I want 25% raise, then when they say no I’ll tell Job Service they’re locking me out.

  • devilschild

    This is a win for labor in the state of ND. Congratulations to the LOCKED OUT former workers of American Crystal Sugar Company.
    If anyone has a beef with this issue contact Dave Berg and take it up with him. Take the time to thank him for raising the amount employers will have to pay in unemployment insurance premiums. Crstal isn’t the only business that will see an increase in rates to cover the amount owed to the workers. It all comes out of one fund.
    Thanks Dave…from what I read a few weeks back rates will go up between 5% and 6% for all businesses in ND to cover the cost of locking out the workers that did nothing but make you money over the years.

  • Yogibare

    Seems this happens a lot with Labor in this country: Heads—I win! Tails—you lose!
    I have some sympathy for the workers who lost their jobs in this juvenile and greedy dispute with their company; however, you had two opportunities to agree to what was a “fair” offer. Seems to me your union recommended acceptance of the offer.

  • auh20

    You realize Van De Walle’s ambiguous construction does not support the majority? Your Facebook post is a little misleading.

  • Rohmattullah YNWA

    Thank you for share :)

  • Captjohn

    Clearly the word claimant was bastardized in this argument. How else we’re the legislative council staff attorneys supposed to identify the person claiming the benefit. The term claimant was used to identify anyone making a claim on the fund. That term can be found through out that section of the code.
    All claimants are just claimants not some special class because they are part of a walk out or a lock out. I hope that the legislative council staff can come up with additional language the courts can’t bastardize.
    When the discussion on this law took place decades ago no one thought it wasn’t clear not even the union representatives who opposed it. Only labor leaning judges and those of you who are looking for an excuse can twist the language used.

    • devilschild

      Claimants…you make the word sound like it’s equalivent to gum under someone’s shoe. Did you by chance write up the language for Workmen’s Comp in ND as well? Maybe…just maybe…this ruling will do something to help repair the image ND has of being a state that is anti-labor.

      • headward

        Anti-labor? ND has the lowest unemployment and one of the highest paid counties in the nation(not to out due the large government DC). Would you like to try again for anti-labor? I think you might be anti-work.

        • devilschild

          oh please…your recent discovery of a puddle of oil doesn’t let you off the hook for decades of suppressing worker rights. I think you might be pro-business and anti-worker.

          • headward

            Puddle of oil has skyrocketed ND to the 2nd highest producer in the union and put the USA to #2 for oil producers. I would suggest that if the state is suppressing worker rights they must be doing a terrible job as people who want to work are flocking here. Exception is the union for American Crystal.

            I’m pro-property rights. Workers and businesses voluntarily enter into an agreement of what work needs to be done and how much the worker will be paid. That’s the true freedom.

  • slackwarerobert

    How is refusing to go to work different from quitting and refusing to work? If you quit you don’t get the unemployment payments.
    Can I now collect unemployment payments on weekends if I refuse to show up?

  • slackwarerobert

    Bad news for obama, now he has to go back and add all these “unemployed” to his numbers and unemployment will go over 8% again.

  • awfulorv

    I imagine many aging major league baseball players are keeping a watchful eye on this decision. When their contracts expire, because of diminishing talents, they will say they were “locked out” and continue to receive payments, for a certain length of time. Nice work, if you can get it…

  • zipity

    I’m a bit confused here. Assuming the courts ruling is correct. In order to collect ND Unemployment benefits, you have to certify that you are actively seeking work (a job). More specifically, you have to prove you made four “job contacts” per week. That is, submit resumes and/or fill out applications for 4 different employers per week. And you cannot apply to one employer more than once per month.

    How exactly are the Am. Crystal workers who actually refused to accept the work contract with Am. Crystal going to prove they have met that requirement over the period of time at issue?

    Not only that, if a ND Unemployment claimant refuses work during a given week, they are disqualified from receiving benefits for that week.

    Doesn’t the FACT that the Am. Crystal union workers REFUSED the employment contract offered a clear refusal of work, and a disqualification from receiving unemployment benefits?

    I don’t see how they qualify under existing ND Job Service Unemployment requirements

    • zipity

      Not only that, claimants typically are entitled to 26 weeks of North Dakota state unemployment benefits.

      These guys are going to get 104 weeks of benefits? Under what law/rule is that permissible under North Dakota Job Service regulations…?

  • Kevin Flanagan

    What are they going to do when the checks stop?

  • awfulorv

    This decision was, clearly, a means of delivering a message to the liberal Easterners, represented by Bill Ayers, who was blathering away at a nearby campus.

    The message is that, despite the Blush worthy economic resurgence taking place in North Dakota, it is, deep within, a wasteful, indulgent, bastion of liberal feel goodness, not unlike their coastal brethren.

    A state loaded with cash, and eager to show the rest of the nation that it would, happily, support, and coddle, even more freeloaders, if only they’d send them north.

    And Golly whiz, a state that eagerly awaits, feels deserving of, and wonders why, it’s not on the travel itinerary of it’s Lord and Master, his Eminence, the one and only Barack H. Obama.

  • Rick Olson

    It isn’t likely that the Legislature at this stage of the game would interfere with the state Supreme Court’s decision. Rather, you might see it come up in the form of a study resolution that would be studied during the interim. The bill filing deadline comes and goes early each session (like in the third week). Therefore, no new bills can be introduced at this late stage of the session, unless the introducer (who usually has to be a membership of the majority or minority leadership of the House or Senate) first takes the bill to a “Delayed Bills Committee.” There is such a committe in both the House and the Senate, and any delayed bill must first be presented to said committee, and the committee has to vote (simple majority) in favor of allowing the bill to be introduced.

  • cylde

    You must be willing and able to go work to draw this benefit. If the beet plant offers them a job and they refuse because they think the pay is too low then they should be cut off. I believe they were offered jobs at the rate the plant was willing to pay and that was good enough for others.

  • whowon