Tentative pact reached in Joliet Caterpillar strike
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org August 15, 2012 12:50PM
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:58PM
JOLIET — News of a tentative contract agreement with Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. was met with derisive laughter Wednesday by striking machinists on the Joliet plant’s picket line.
When they were asked to comment on the proposed six-year pact, a couple of the machinists pointed to a nearby portable toilet.
They said the latest contract offer, which the machinists will vote on at 9 a.m. Friday, isn’t much different from two previous offers that were overwhelmingly rejected by members of Channahon-based Local Lodge 851 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
“It’s junk,” said Terry Simpson, a 16-year Caterpillar veteran from Lansing. “It’s no better than the first one.”
Union steward Mike Kinkin, an almost 40-year veteran from Ottawa, said the offer doesn’t include cost of living increases or language spelling out retirees’ rights to health insurance.
“They don’t want it in writing,” he said. “They just want us to trust them. They’re not trustworthy.”
The only area that improved was seniority rights, Kinkin said. The company relented on a measure that would have allowed senior workers to be loaned out to other shifts for up to a year. Now the language is back to the traditional 90 days.
Union steward Sean Gallaway said the deal negotiated by the union’s District 8 leaders is unacceptable.
“Our local is not recommending it, despite what district officials are saying,” Gallaway said. “The district side-stepped our committee and took negotiations into their own hands.”
The new development is discouraging, he added.
“The men feel that they sat out the entire summer for nothing,” he said. “Personally, I’m not going to accept it and will be a ‘no’ vote. And as a steward, I’m urging my people to vote the same way.”
Steve Jones, the directing business agent for the union’s District 8, said there are enough significant changes to bring the offer to the members for a vote. The district is not making a recommendation on the proposal, he added.
“While it does not address every issue for every member, it deserves to be brought to the membership for a vote,” he said. “We’ll let them decide whether to continue to stay on strike or accept this tentative agreement and return to work.”
As for Gallaway’s comments about the local being side-stepped, he said, “We have some local people who are playing politics with members’ lives.”
Kinkin admitted that the lengthy strike is hurting members, especially younger workers, who have been on strike since May 1. About 100 of 780 union members have crossed the picket line. The number is slowly growing as the weeks drag on.
“I hope it doesn’t pass, but there are a lot of people hurting right now,” Kinkin said of the proposal.
The union’s previous seven-year contract expired April 30. Members went on strike after the company proposed doubling insurance payments and keeping salaries flat while offering “market-based” increases to lower paid workers, if warranted. The company also wants to suspend the defined benefits pension program.
Caterpillar officials say they must keep costs down to remain competitive globally. Union members have balked at compensation decreases at a time when the company is making record profits. Kinkin said those record profits are the result of hard work by union members. But he proposed a compromise.
“If they’re making money, we get it,” he said. “If they’re not, we renegotiate if we have to.”
Caterpillar officials did not comment Wednesday beyond saying there was a new tentative agreement. The company has used managers and temporary replacement workers to keep production going at the plant, which makes hydraulic components for the company’s mining and earth moving equipment. The 1.3 million-square-foot Route 6 facility is the global headquarters for Caterpillar’s hydraulics unit.
The union ratification meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the IBEW Hall at 1100 Northeast Frontage Road, Joliet.