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Focus: Manufacturing

Feature Article from Our Supply Chain Trends and Issues Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

Aug. 22, 2012

Supply Chain News: Bitter Strike at Caterpillar in Joliet Finally Ends


Company Gets Most of What it Wanted in "Labor's Last Stand;" Where Do Unions Go from Here?


SCDigest Editorial Staff

The bitter strike that has been going on since May 1 at a Caterpillar factory in Joliet, IL has ended, and it appears to have mostly gone Caterpillar's way, at the end of what some observers had earlier called "labor's last stand." The workers approved the new pact last Friday by a narrow margin.

SCDigest Says:


"I wasted four months of my life," union member John Hunt told the Chicago Tribune relative to the strike in Joliet.

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Previously, the union had strongly rejected to Caterpillar contracts very similar to the one approved last week.

There are some 780 union employees at the Joliet plant that makes hydraulic components for Caterpillar equipment, represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers (IAM).


As the strike lingered on, some reports said more than 100 of the union force had gone back to work, putting pressure on those still striking, though the union for awhile disputed those reports.


In approving the new contract, the workers acted against recommendations made by leaders of their union local, who had objected strongly to the pact.


The agreement was negotiated by union leaders from the district level, not the local level, to end a showdown that had gone on for months without significant progress towards an agreement.


The "labor's last stand" notion came as unions have taken a number of setbacks in recent years, and because Caterpillar itself is generally thriving, yet was asking for concessions from the union in order to get its costs back in line with "market wages."


The concessions demanded by Caterpillar included a six-year wage freeze for workers hired before May 2005, representing more than 60% of the factory employees there. Workers hired after 2005 came into the plant at a lower wage scale under a previous agreement.


The new contract maintained that wage freeze, plus other concessions, such as a pension freeze for the more senior workers and a substantial increase in what workers must contribute towards their health care insurance.


The new deal does, however, give the workers a $3,100 ratification bonus, up from the $1000 level the company had offered lately. However, at the time the contact ended April 30, Caterpillar was offering a $5000 ratification bonus for a quck agreement.


The union also won a minor concession from Caterpillar relative to work assignments, at least from Cat's original offer.

(Manufacturing article continued below)





The company wanted to be able to assign workers new jobs or new shifts indefinitely, regardless of seniority. Under the new deal, workers could still be assigned to new jobs or shifts irrespective of seniority, but for a maximum of 90 days.


The New York Times quotes Michael LeRoy, a labor relations professor at the University of Illinois, as saying that it is a win for Caterpillar. They achieved their bargaining objectives," said "There's very little good news in this for the union. They have managed to maintain the bargaining relationship. I wouldn't say it's a disaster, but it sure is a step back."


During the strike, the plant was staffed by office workers and temporary workers. Caterpillar said it maintained production levels during the strike period.


"I wasted four months of my life," union member John Hunt told the Chicago Tribune relative to the strike in Joliet.


What is your reaction to the Caterpillar strike and settlement? Was this labor's last stand in terms of the manufacturing sector? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


Recent Feedback

 One of the reasons the strike failed was no support from other Unions. There was one union that stepped up to help, while others stood idlely by. When are Unions going to Wake Up and start supporting each other?  Unless they do, they're doomed. Every Cat plant should have walked. Where were the other Machinest Unions to Support Their Brothers? That is no Contract! The company did what they wanted. It takes money for a strike and the company has plenty of it. The workers that crossed the picket, sold out their Union brothers. Hope they like their contract.

Mike M.
Retired SteelWorker
Aug, 23 2012

Given what most manufacturing large companies have gone through, the union should have considered the first offer but stayed at the table....I said 2 yrs ago that machinists will never see $30.00/hr....unless you're Boeing.

Joy Global
Aug, 23 2012