Caterpillar workers strike against take back contract

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JOLIET, Ill. - Nearly 800 workers at a Caterpillar plant here have been on strike since May 1 after the company refused to back off a far reaching concessionary contract proposal.

The workers make hydraulic components and systems for Caterpillar tractors, wheel loaders and mining trucks and are members of International Association of Machinists Local 851.

"Normally in the past, they could buy some votes by making the contract better for younger workers or better for older workers. With this contract though, everything was takeaways," said Local 851 President Tim O'Brien.

Caterpillar responded to the strike by hiring scabs to continue uninterrupted production to meet growing demand for its products in North American. Strikers dispute the company's claim it can resume full production.

"I'm out here for my wife and children" said Ted Hobsen, a union steward. "They want to raise health care premiums and cut benefits, disregarding seniority, working us anytime and anywhere and any shift. We've got families."

"If you freeze my wages then double what I pay for my health care, then you cut my pay," said Joe Nuske, IAM chairman.

The company, which increased profits by 44 percent in 2011, reportedly $5 billion, made a record breaking $1.5 billion in the first quarter of 2012.

The take back proposal is part of an aggressive assault on the unions representing Caterpillar workers and the imposition of concessions in its operations worldwide.

Earlier this year Caterpillar broke the Canadian UAW local at its London, Ontario, operation when it locked out the 465 workers. The company then transferred the work to a non-union plant in Indiana, which recently became a "right to work for less" state.

Caterpillar is demanding the Joliet workers accept a six-year contract that freezes wages, doubles health care payments, eliminates health care coverage for retirees, eliminates key seniority provisions, forces workers to accept irregular shifts and does away with the current pension in favor of a 401k plan.

The company wants to reduce wages for some workers by as much as $8 per hour.

In addition, the company, which employs another 1,200 workers at the plant not under this contract, wants to reduce wages for new hires, who currently earn $13 per hour. Caterpillar would set up a new rate determined by a "market based" formula.

"I wouldn't be able to afford to take my kid to the doctor," Gareth Beeson told In These Times. "Basically this contract wouldn't make this job worth working anymore. I'd still pay union dues, but I wouldn't have a good union job anymore."

Solidarity is pouring in from the labor movement and community. Strikers say they will fight until they get a fair contract.

Photo: Striking members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union on the picket line outside Caterpillar's plant in Joliet, Ill., May 1. The contract expired for about 800 workers at the plant. Matthew Grotto/The Herald-News/AP

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  • All;

    The point is, "fair" is determined by market value of the labor provided, NOT in terms of what the worker thinks he wants or needs...at least insomuch as those "wants and needs" are not in synch with what he/she has to offer in return.

    I'm sorry, I just don't buy into this "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" stuff. If a worker's labor is WORTH more, he will either RECEIVE more from his current employer....or he will be able to find ANOTHER employer who IS willing to pay at that level. If neither is the case, then the worker is being unrealistic...and is asking for a subsidy; i.e. - "welfare".

    Is that the case here? Is the LABOR (NOT "the persons", but the value of the LABOR those persons have to offer) worth what they're asking? The employer seems to think not. Apparently, the employer also thinks that the workers (or past workers) are demanding MORE than what their labor is worth, and that he could do better elsewhere if so allowed. Now, NOT being "so allowed" is where the concept of "welfare" comes in. Those seeking it are demanding that the REST of society - which is willing to be compensated on the NATURAL market value of their labor - subsidize them in their pursuit of an artificially maintained, NON-marked based "valuation".

    Seems to me the ones being "greedy" here aren't the "corporate" interests, but rather those who are demanding MORE FOR THEIR LABOR THAN WHAT IT'S WORTH!!! That, to me, is true "greed"; i.e. - demanding that OTHERS make-up for what one is unwilling to EARN for one's self.

    Posted by KenM, 06/06/2012 10:11am (2 years ago)

  • It is too bad that there are people willing to cross a picket line, scabs will have the American workforce reduced to working for table scraps in no time.

    Posted by sdcloke, 05/14/2012 6:51pm (2 years ago)

  • Keep the faith brothers & sisters!

    Posted by Mike Carman, 05/14/2012 3:45pm (2 years ago)

  • For KenM I don't know if you live in a bubble or what. But when a gallon of milk is $3, a gallon of gas is $4 or more, a doctors visit is $200 and you are paying more for your health insurance with less benefits than before plus making $14 an hour with no pay increase for 6 years. While the CEO receives a 42% salary increase it is on the backs of the workers. They will end up on welfare which we will all pay for. I agree with the strike. Enough is Enough of corporate greed. This is the reason that the middle class that supports this country is disappearing.

    Posted by DebbieR, 05/12/2012 7:23pm (2 years ago)

  • a fair contract was already offered?!!!! maybe you should have looked at it? is it fair to keep people from advancing with in. is it fair to come off of one shift and to be put on another? is it fair for company to back out of promised items? cat made there bed now they need sleep in it!

    Posted by kevin, 05/12/2012 2:51pm (2 years ago)

  • So, "the striker' makes 15/hr which comes out to roughly 1900/month after taxes. Family of 4 gets a 3 bedroom apartment for 700/month if they are lucky. Another 600/month for groceries if they shop carefully. That's already 1300. Lets take away the 400/month CAT wants them to pay for that welfare subsidy you mentioned. That leaves them with a whole 200 bucks to spare so far and we haven't even included car insurance or gas......well, I do believe that this family of 4 who you say would do "quite well" on that 15/hr pay just went over their monthly income. Too bad the crummy insurance they pay 400/month for doesn't even cover office visits at the doctor, and only covers 80% of any other treatment, so now what are they supposed to do. Oh, maybe this great employer will give them the opportunity to work over time. The kids probably don't want to see this "striker" at home much anyway, so why should they worry about time with the family. Give it all to the company. RIGHT! I think having a union that's willing to fight for a better life for all Americans is much better than all those who just "Take what they can get." because "They are lucky to have a job." This economy isn't nearly as bad as the media makes it out to be, so just open your eye's. Businesses aren't closing their doors. Plenty of people working keeping the money flowing. Just look around for yourself!

    Posted by DaveB, 05/12/2012 11:16am (2 years ago)

  • Ken, how dare you! We are a group of hard working people that are not asking for much, just a fair contract. The company wanted to only take away the privileges that we have earned and the workers before us earned for us as well. CAT wanted to take away the writing in the contract saying they would provide healthcare for retirees. They wanted us to just "trust them on it."

    Besides that, I myself make $12 an hour ($1650 a month after union dues) and I have a 5 month old son and a wife to provide for. If you do that math, in a year I would make $19,800. This puts me only $700 above the poverty line. I think it is an absolute disgrace the way that CAT treats us. I don't even have benefits because of the "supplemental program" they have in place where I only get my straight check and no benefits. Even if they did end up hiring me in and giving me benefits, why would I want them since we are barely able to live paycheck to paycheck as it is right now? I would have more money taken away with this contract since they want to triple the health premiums for family and take away cost of living adjustments.

    So when gas reaches $5 a gallon later on, how am I supposed to factor that in to everything we already have to pay for. I am sorry, but that is wrong when this company is recording record profits of $1.5 billion dollars in this first quarter alone, why can I not have a little wage increase? Besides that, the CEO of the company just got a 42% raise to do what? Sit behind a desk and not ever get his white collar dirty? The union is fighting for our right to live and sustain a decent life, something that THIS country was founded upon. This country was built on the middle class, the class we want to remain and the class that CAT wants to destroy. If you feel the way you feel, go ahead and work at CAT for $12 an hour and try to provide for a family. It doesn't work.

    Posted by Jon B, 05/12/2012 8:36am (2 years ago)

  • Ok KenM, let's see where you are coming from here. So, if the striker mentioned is making 15/hr for a 40 hour week, that's probably about 480 after taxes. Then let's take out the 100/wk for health care which leaves him with 380. So he's MAYBE bringing home roughly 1520/month. 3 bedroom house or apartment will cost him around 800/month in that area. at least 600/month for groceries. Utilities are probably at least 300. So there are your basics. Let's say I'm on the high sidee,which I am not, and we knock off 20%. That would give us 1360 rather than 1700 just for his necessities. Wow Ken. Now he's got a whole 160 bucks to do whatever he wants with and that's only IF you take 20% of my original estimate. If you go with my original, more realistic estimate, this poor sucker doesn't even have enough to get by to begin with. He's better hope they give him some overtime. Now isn't that great. He get's to spend even more time away from the family to make ends meet. So he goes to the doctor and pays the minimum 40 dollar co pay. Maybe needs some medicine or has to see a specialist which costs a minimum 60 dollar co pay. Yes Ken, I can see your point. ANYONE would be happy to be enslaved (or have that job as you put it) with such great wages as those. It's clear you don't know OR CARE ABOUT the facts here.

    This terrible economy you speak of.....funny, I don't see any car dealerships closing down. Where are people getting the money to buy cars to keep them in business? Any given night, I see plenty of cars in the mall and restaurant parking lots. I have to assume that's because there are paying customers inside. Where are these people finding the money for all this stuff if the economy is soooo terrible as you say. Maybe you should stop listening to your media, corporate America, and the government, and do some research for yourself before you open your uninformed mouth.....PLEASE. I can't stand hearing the same misinformed crap from true American Idiots, as the song goes. You really shouldn't knock union workers. They are who made this country and they are who made these corporations as big and strong as they are today. The problem is, we have people leading these powerhouses now who only want to give less and less as these highly skilled union workers make them more and more money.

    Posted by DaveB, 05/12/2012 7:53am (2 years ago)

  • Obviously there are many people who were willing to come in and take over the jobs the union member have vacated. Why do these people willing to work while the strike is in have less of a right to the jobs that the union members do? How dare any of them taunt and harass people who have just as much of a right to a job as they do? I grew up in a union house and for 15 years was a proud union member. Eventually I caught on as I was left out in the cold as my union negotiated for better terms for their younger members leaving the older ones high and dry. Why does this happen all the time? Because the union needs to keep replenishing their ranks with young blood who will have many years paying the dues.

    For the past 6 years I have been doing the same job (Machinist) and making better money and have better benefits than I ever did with the union. The time of unions have come and gone. They were great at one point but have become nothing more than political fund raisers at this point.

    Posted by James, 05/11/2012 5:41pm (2 years ago)

  • If the striker mentioned feels he is unable to "take [his]kid to the doctor" under the proposed contract, maybe he should vacate his current position and seek work elsewhere, allowing others - and I suspect there are many! - who think they COULD function quite well under the proposal the opportunity to take his place.

    Face it; in today's economy, people such as the above aren't "fighting for a fair contract" (they've already been offered that)...what they're demanding is a form of unearned subsidy, over and above what the market would indicate.

    Personally, I don't think that our country can afford that type of welfare anymore.

    Posted by KenM, 05/11/2012 12:18pm (2 years ago)

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