The big CAT’s at it again

Despite record profits, Caterpillar wants to freeze wages and double health costs at Illinois plant.

May 1, 2012   by The Canadian Press

JOLIET, Ill.: Union workers have rejected Caterpillar Inc.’s latest contract offer and walked off the job at the company’s plant in Joliet.

Workers with picket signs lined up outside the plant early Tuesday. The contract expired at midnight for about 800 workers at the manufacturing plant.

The union members are asking for better wages and health care.

The Caterpillar employees are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Those union members voted against a contract offer Sunday, and talks between the union and Caterpillar broke down late Monday.

“About 94% of the members voted against it,” Steve Jones, who is business manager for union’s Lodge 851, told The Journal-Star newspaper in Peoria.

Production at the plant, which makes hydraulics and other components for mining trucks, tractors and other machines, won’t be disrupted, the company said in a statement. The plant has about 1,200 other employees who are not affected by the contract negotiations.

“We are going to continue to run our business as normal, meet production levels and provide uninterrupted service to our customers. Caterpillar has work plans, processes, policies and people ready to be deployed in the event of any business interruption, whether it is a tornado, fire or a labour strike.”

Negotiations between the union and Caterpillar have been running for about a month. The company’s most recent offer would have held wages at current levels for six years, Jones said, and more than doubled employees’ health care costs.

“Essentially, Caterpillar is making record profits, $1.5 billion in the first quarter,” Jones said. “But they’re taking away from the workers.”

A Caterpillar spokesman, Rusty Dunn, called the strike vote unfortunate.

Earlier this year, Caterpillar shuttered its ElectroMotive plant in London, Ont., putting 450 Canadians out of work, moving the operations south of the border.

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