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Strike may be over at Joliet Caterpillar plant, but the war isn’t

A Japanese flag  flies with an American flag an Illinois flag outside Caterpillar plant Joliet Monday.  |

A Japanese flag flies with an American flag and an Illinois flag outside the Caterpillar plant in Joliet on Monday. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:20AM



While the official war between management and labor at Caterpillar’s Joliet plant ended with a contract settlement in August, post-strike skirmishes continue.

The latest battle occurred Monday when some military veterans who work at the plant said it was insensitive of the company to fly a foreign flag on a day set aside for the observance of Veterans Day, according to Tim O’Brien, president of the machinists union.

“I’m not a veteran myself, but the ones who have fought for my country are not happy,” he said.

Workers who questioned management about the flag were told it was flying in honor of a foreign delegation that was visiting the plant, O’Brien reported. Initial reports said the flag was Chinese, but it was a Japanese flag.

Flying foreign flags to honor visitors from around the globe is company protocol, Caterpillar spokesman Rusty Dunn said.

The flag incident is just the latest turmoil at the plant, which endured a strike from May 1 through Aug. 17 by about 780 members of Channahon-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 851.

On Sunday, the union met to begin disciplinary action against about 100 workers who crossed the picket line during the strike. Steve Jones, the union’s directing business agent for the union, would not reveal details of the meeting.

But two union members who attended said workers who crossed the picket line were hit with hefty fines and had to give up their $3,100 contract signing bonuses.

About half of the cases were decided; another meeting is scheduled for Sunday to handle the rest of the cases, according to the union members, who did not want their names used.

During the strike, Caterpillar officials assured workers they would not lose their jobs for crossing the picket line. And that is the case, Dunn said. But the union does have the right to fine its members who crossed the picket line, he added.

Finally, Jones said he expected most of the charges filed against the union with the National Labor Relations Board to be dropped. Two machinists who chose not to join the union incorrectly received letters that said they would be disciplined for crossing the picket line, but they will not be, Jones said.

The two workers also filed charges that said they shouldn’t have to pay full union dues because they are not union members, according to the National Right to Work Foundation, which is assisting the men.

Foundation spokesman Anthony Riedel said workers who refrain from joining a union do not have to pay full dues and the men should not have to jump through hoops to get their overpayment back.

Riedel said 56 other machinists who received union disciplinary notifications for crossing the picket line also have contacted the foundation, which says it offers free legal aid to employees whose rights have been violated by “compulsory unionism abuses.” The workers claim they were never informed of their right to refrain from joining the union, Riedel said.

“We do anticipate filing more charges in the future,” he added.



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