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Beet truck drivers park rigs in protest seeking higher pay

A group of truck drivers who haul sugar beets for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative parked their trucks Wednesday in a work stoppage striving for higher wages.

A group of truck drivers who haul sugar beets for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative parked their trucks Wednesday in a work stoppage striving for higher wages.

Rick Norton, one of the drivers, said he and eight other drivers want an increase in their hourly wage from $10.66 to $15.

The drivers are paid $128 daily for a 12-hour work day, and most work six days a week.

The dissident drivers, who spent much of Wednesday meeting in a banquet room in a restaurant in Breckenridge, Minn., also were pushing for a management change.

"It's a hostile work environment," said Norton, who lives in Fergus Falls, Minn.

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The drivers work for American Driver Service Inc. The firm leases drivers to Minn-Dak, a cooperative of 477 farmer-owners based in Wahpeton, N.D.

A spokeswoman for Minn-Dak said Wednesday's work stoppage by day-shift drivers didn't hamper shipments of sugar beets, which are hauled from field piles for processing.

"The factory hasn't been impacted at all," said Susan Johnson, Minn-Dak's communications manager. Beyond that, she referred inquiries to American Driver Service.

DRIVERS JUMP

"It really is an American Driver issue," Johnson said. "We just contract them to drive the trucks."

Angela Riehl, administrative assistant in the American Driver Service office in Wahpeton, said the company has no public comment on the drivers' grievances or employment status.

"Our official comment on this is it's an internal matter and we're taking care of it internally," she said.

Norton said one of the nine drivers who parked his truck in the morning was told he was fired when he turned in his hours Wednesday. He predicted others involved in the work stoppage face the same fate.

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American Driver Service apparently was pulling in drivers who normally haul grain and having them haul sugar beets instead, Norton said. Even so, they were short of drivers, he said.

"As we go back we'll be terminated immediately," he said. The drivers knew that was a risk, but were fed up over poor pay and working conditions.

"I know there's other truck companies out there," Norton said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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