Union pickets Caterpillar plant in Joliet
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org April 24, 2012 3:36PM
Updated: May 26, 2012 8:10AM
JOLIET — Union workers picketed Tuesday afternoon in front of the Caterpillar Inc. plant on Route 6.
A seven-year contract between Peoria-based Caterpillar and members of Local 851 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers will expire at midnight Monday.
Tuesday’s informational picketing by union members was an effort to preserve their wages and benefits at a time when Caterpillar is earning record profits, union steward Ted Hobson said.
Wages, working conditions and health benefits have been the main sticking points during contract talks, which began about a month ago, Hobson said.
“The guys with more seniority are worried about their pensions,” he said. “The less senior members are trying to raise their wage scale. And we’re all worried about trying to hold on to our health benefits.”
A company spokesman said it was “business as usual” at the plant Tuesday.
“Production operations are running as normal and employees are focused on the job at hand and meeting customer needs,” spokesman Rusty Dunn said in an emailed statement. “Efforts to reach a new labor agreement are ongoing. The company remains committed to achieving an agreement that is fair to our employees and allows us to compete and win in a challenging global environment.”
The company has proposed cutting some pay scales by $8 an hour and doubling or tripling how much machinists pay for health insurance, Hobson said. Overtime rules would change, too, erasing increased pay for more than 8.5 hours of work on a daily basis. Instead, machinists would only earn overtime after 40 hours of work per week, he said.
The company also would like to bring in part-time employees for some positions and an incentive pay plan would be eliminated.
“If the company does good, we get a small percentage,” Hobson said explaining the incentive pay plan.
The company is profitable, so there should be no need for benefit and pay reductions, he said.
“With Caterpillar making profits, we are not going to do concessionary bargaining,” he said.
Cat’s CEO recently received a 42 percent compensation increase, Hobson said.
“That’s a hard pill for our members to swallow right now,” he said. “If the company is making a lot of money, we would like to see a little bit of this.”
There are about 800 machinists at the plant, which produces hydraulic components for tractors assembled elsewhere. The workforce total is down from the 2,400 who went on strike in August 1986 and the 900 who picketed in 2005 before approval of the soon-to-expire contract.
According to the Caterpillar website (www.caterpillar.com), the company generated record-breaking sales in 2011 and revenues of $60 billion, up 41 percent from almost $43 billion in 2010.
But the record-breaking year did not prevent turmoil with some workers. In February, Caterpillar announced it was closing a locomotive plant in London, Ontario, after the Canadian Auto Workers there refused to accept steep wage cuts.