Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hold the Presses ... Union Splits on Cat Strike Settlement Offer

Maybe the union will manage to screw this strike settlement thing up yet another time. It now seems like there is a definite split between Joliet local union officials and their regional union leadership.

There may not be a unified union leadership push for contract ratification Friday. If that's the case, all bets are off.

If the members don't ratify the agreement Friday, they may be in for a very rude awakening about their future employment opportunities. Oh well, it's a free country.

Union Leaders Split on Latest Caterpillar Offer has the story:

"Union leaders are split on the merits of a slightly revised pay offer made by Caterpillar Inc. in an effort to end a strike that began May 1 at the company's plant in Joliet, Ill.

"I will not recommend it," Timothy O'Brien, president of the local branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said in an interview on Wednesday.

He said that most other members of the union's local negotiating members agreed with him.

But Steve Jones, a district official of the IAM whose territory includes Joliet, said he believed there were "significant improvements" in the offer. He said it would be up to the 780 or so Caterpillar workers represented by the IAM to decide on the offer when they meet for a vote on it Friday.

The strike is viewed as a test of factory workers' willingness to fight downward pressure on wages and benefits at a time when unemployment remains high and strikes have become rare.

After talks with Mr. Jones, Caterpillar offered a one-time 3% pay raise to some workers at the plant, according to people involved in the negotiations.

Caterpillar, a maker of construction and mining equipment based in Peoria, Ill., declined to comment on the details of the tentative six-year accord, which was reached Tuesday.

The 3% raise would go to workers hired after May 2005, while pay of others would stay flat unless Caterpillar later determines that the general market level of wages justifies an increase, these people said.

All workers would be eligible for a $1,000 bonus for signing the new agreement, these people added. Caterpillar also made slight changes in its plan for rules determining when workers can be required to change shifts.

Sean Gallaway, a union steward at the plant, said he considered the offer little improved and would vote against it.

Mr. O'Brien, the local president, agreed: "It is not much different than the previous offer we voted against."

Hourly pay for most workers in the plant ranges from about $13 to $28 per hour.

A Caterpillar spokesman said more than 100 IAM workers at the plant had trickled back to work since the strike began in May.

The IAM's Mr. O'Brien agreed that "a little over" 100 had crossed the picket lines."

Summing Up

The union may very well be in the process of outsmarting itself.

Without a strong recommendation from union leaders, emotions may carry the day and the strikers may elect to stay out of work.

If so, the employees, local Joliet community and local suppliers will be the ones who suffer in the end.

Not Cat, not Cat management, not Cat shareholders and certainly not the IAM's union leadership.

Stay tuned.  We'll see how this turns out Friday.

Thanks. Bob.

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