Some 780 members of the Machinists union walked off the job May 1 after voting 94 percent to reject the bosses’ contract proposal.
Caterpillar is pressing to freeze wages for six years, expand the use of “supplemental” workers to 20 percent of the workforce, double health care costs, and gut seniority rights, cost of living increases and pensions. The IAM reports that some 200 management personnel and 200 nonunion contract workers are maintaining limited production.
Caterpillar spokesperson Rusty Dunn told the Militant, “We were well-prepared to continue to operate the Joliet facility by deploying our contingency workforce plan.” Dunn said there were some 2,000 workers and supervisors employed at Joliet before the strike. “Our Last/Best/Final offer is on the table,” he said.
“The pension was the thing that pushed me over,” said Clyde Snapp, a machinist. “For years we took cuts. Back then they called us experts. Now they treat us like gum on the floor.”
“They are making record profits,” pointed out Chris Shelby, a maintenance worker for 19 years. “Our union gives and gives. We’re divided into two tiers working the same jobs at different pay, one person gets $13 the other $22.”
Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of construction equipment, reported a 29 percent increase in first-quarter profits, with revenues of $15.98 billion.
According to workers on the picket line, basic production jobs are organized by the IAM. Other workers are mostly nonunion and work for outside contractors. Forklift drivers, for example, make $10 to $12 per hour and work for the Belmont Group contractor.
“Members of the Laborers union who work at the plant are not crossing the picket line,” Matt Roesel, who worked there for 19 years as a machine assembler, told the Militant.
“This is bigger than Caterpillar,” IAM General Secretary-Treasurer Robert Roach Jr. told participants. “It’s about all of labor. Your fight is our fight.” Other speakers included Tim Drea, secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO; and Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante.
Troy Petri, a member of United Auto Workers Local 2096, came with a group of coworkers from Caterpillar’s plant in Pontiac, which makes fuel injectors. “The boss can fire supplemental workers at will,” said Petri, who worked as a supplemental worker for three years. Caterpillar expanded the number of supplemental workers there to 20 percent of the workforce in the last contract, he said.
“Over a dozen came from my local today,” said Myron Magee, chairman of IAM Local 492, who works at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in Chicago. “We are here today to support all of my brothers and sisters who are doing what they need to do.”
Nine workers from Laborers Local 393 from Marseilles brought their union banner and a giant inflatable rat.
Send letters of solidarity and contributions to: Local Lodge 851, 23157 S. Thomas Dillon Dr., Ste. B, Channahon, IL 60410.
Alyson Kennedy and Candido Deleon contributed to this article.
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