Caterpillar, union to meet with federal strike mediator
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com May 17, 2012 11:38AM
Bill Ronna (center), a machinist for 19 years, cheers during a rally for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers outside the Joliet Caterpillar plant Friday, May 11, 2012. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:38AM
JOLIET — The machinists union, Caterpillar Inc. and a federal mediator were scheduled to meet Thursday to try to resolve a 17-day-old workers strike at the plant on Route 6.
Caterpillar spokesman Rusty Dunn said the union requested the meeting.
“Caterpillar representatives have agreed to attend,” he said.
A mediator can help with negotiations, but does not have power to force a settlement, said Steve Jones, a spokesman for the union.
Jones had no further comment.
Also this week, the company sent a letter explaining its final contract offer to striking employees, who are members of Local Lodge 851 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The letter, dated May 15, should be arriving in workers’ mailboxes this week, Dunn said. About 780 union members went on strike
May 1 after rejecting the company’s final proposal for a new six-year pact.
The letter claims its final contract offer to employees has been misrepresented.
Jones, the union’s District 8 spokesman, said he believes the letter is in reaction to the union’s rally and “show of solidarity” on Friday that included support from local legislators.
According to the letter, the company claims its final offer:
Does not cut wages, and it does include incentive pay and market rate adjustments that can only go up, not down.
Incentive compensation (bonuses) would be based on the company’s profitability and overall performance.
Health care benefit changes would reflect the market and would be indicative of changes that many Americans — and other Caterpillar employees — have already experienced. Employees would chip in 10 percent for health care and the amount would rise to 20 percent by 2017.
Maintains seniority rights that were included in the prior contract. The language allows the company to adjust employee work shifts “as business needs dictate,” which would help the company avoid layoffs.
The union’s Jones disputed some of the letter’s claims. He said the proposed contract would expand the company rights to move any employee to any shift at any time. Also, health care benefit increases are unwarranted while the company is making record profits, Jones said.
Union officials also have complained about the lack of any pay raises in the proposed six-year pact.
During the strike, the plant continues to operate to meet customer demands and the company’s “resolve is strong,” according to the letter, signed by Carlos Revilla, an operations manager at the plant. The plant produces hydraulic components for Caterpillar tractors, which are assembled elsewhere.
Revilla reminded employees that the company’s offer includes “a six-year no plant closure provisions.”
“When an organization is not competitive, such commitments are not possible,” he concluded.
Jones said the comment about the plant closure was a “veiled threat.”