Some 780 Caterpillar workers, members of International Association of Machinists Local 851, walked off the job May 1 after rejecting the company’s proposal for a new contract that would freeze wages, gut pension and seniority rights, and expand the use of “supplemental” workers at lower wages and benefits.
Alex Forgue, 18, a freshman at Joliet Junior College, initiated the show of solidarity by contacting Northern Illinois Jobs for Justice and getting their help to publicize the action. “Its time people stand up and fight for the rights that our parents and grandparents fought for,” he told the Militant.
“I’ve never been more proud than to be on this picket line with you all today,” Mark Ferry, a member of Steelworkers Local 7517 at the Citgo refinery in Romeoville told a rally at the picket line.
Mike Haynes, a truck mechanic and member of the Machinists union at a dealership in Joliet, joined the picket for the first time. “I came out to support my union brothers and sisters,” he told the Militant.
“The younger guys are looking out for the pensions for the older members and the older members want younger ones to have a wage to grow into,” said Joe Ahern, a member of the union negotiating committee at the Joliet plant. “The guys who weren’t as active before are rising to the occasion.”
In a statement on the company website, Caterpillar says it seeks to bring wages at the plant in line with other manufacturers in the region to remain competitive.
“It’s not easy but there was no choice but to strike,” said Donald Utke, a machinist for more than 30 years in the Joliet plant.
“We are getting cheated,” said Lance Rod, who has worked for five years at Caterpillar. “I have a family and house payment, but I’d rather die trying than cross the line and die anyway.”
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