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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 76/No. 20      May 21, 2012


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(front page)
Illinois Machinists answer
Caterpillar union busting
‘Come out to strike picket and support us’
Militant/Laura Anderson
Strike picket against Caterpillar at Joliet, Ill., plant where 780 workers walked out May 1.

JOLIET, Ill.—“They’re trying to create a new poverty social class. And it’s not just here but everywhere, countrywide. It’s time to stop!” That’s how International Association of Machinists member Jim Tucker described Caterpillar’s contract offer that was rejected April 29 by a resounding vote of 94 percent.

Some 780 members of IAM Local 851, who make hydraulic components and systems for Caterpillar machines, walked out here May 1 at 12:01 a.m. They’ve kept up pickets 24/7, according to Steve Jones, IAM District 8 business representative. Inside some 200 management personnel and 200 nonunion contract workers maintain limited production.

Caterpillar’s contract proposal would freeze wages of all workers for six years, expand the use of “supplemental” workers to 20 percent of the workforce, double health care costs—already $79 per month for single workers—and gut pensions, cost of living increases and seniority rights.

“I make $13 an hour right now,” Chris Griffin, 32, told the Militant. He was hired on as a supplemental worker in June of last year, and brought on as a regular “tier two” worker four months later. “When you deduct the increased health insurance costs I’ll be down to $8 an hour. If they’re doing this to us, what are they going to do to the next generation that comes after us?”

First-tier workers make up to $28, explained Jones. Second tier tops out at $19 and supplemental workers, introduced in 2005, who have no benefits, are hired for up to 24 months, and can be terminated at will. They generally make $13 an hour and Caterpillar often lays them off after 23 months to avoid hiring them as second-tier workers, said Jones. The company’s contract proposal would eliminate the possibility of any more workers becoming first tier, which takes 10 years.

“I’m tired of feeling like a second-class citizen at Caterpillar,” said John Andrew, who is a full-time supplemental worker. “You can be working next to someone doing the same job making $8 more than you.”

“We need everyone to come out and support us,” Tucker said. “If you’re driving down the street honk your horn. If you’ve got some time join us—you’ll be wearing a sign for a reason.”

Stephen Lech and Eric McClellan, members of United Steelworkers Local 7-669, joined the picket line May 6. “We know what you’re going through,” Lech told the striking workers. “We were locked out by Honeywell in Metropolis for 14 months fighting for a decent contract. We’ll do anything we can to help.”

Roger Zaczyk, president of United Electrical Workers Local 506 at the General Electric plant in Erie, Pa., joined the picket line along with two other workers from that city. “This is a very important fight for all workers,” he said.

Earlier this year Zaczyk participated in a delegation to London, Ontario, to support locked-out Caterpillar workers there who refused to accept a 50 percent pay cut. The company shut down the plant about one month into the lockout.

Brian Cheaten, a member of United Auto Workers Local 719, who works at Caterpillar-owned Electro-Motive Diesel in LaGrange, just outside of Chicago, joined the picket line. “We should have gone on strike at EMD,” he said. “We faced a similar contract.”

“The 2005 contract gave the company the right to contract out a lot of the work,” said Jim Hite, a 20-year worker at the Joliet plant. “All the forklift jobs are done by contractors. But the only union contractors, Ironworkers from Brieser Construction, packed up their stuff and left on Monday. They won’t cross our picket line. UPS drivers are also refusing to cross.”

“Now everyone enters as a supplemental worker,” Hite continued. “Some get as low as $11 per hour. That guy over there makes $13, and I make $27 and we’re doing the same job!”

The world’s largest maker of construction equipment, Caterpillar reported a 29 percent increase in first-quarter profits, with revenues of $15.98 billion.

“What the company is asking is sinful,” Tucker said. “Shame on them! This young man is making $16.33 per hour,” he said, pointing to a 22-year-old worker on the line. “I make $25 per hour and we’re in the same labor grade. Who do they think they are to pay him two-thirds of what I get? How can they say he’s only worth two-thirds? There shouldn’t be two tiers.”

Tucker, a hydraulic gear pump assembler, has worked in the plant since 1993. “This is my first time on strike. This is our family, not Caterpillar,” Tucker said. “I’m proud to be standing out here with my brothers and sisters.”

Workers are planning a solidarity rally for Friday, May 11.
Related articles:
Quebec Steelworkers rally in fight against Rio Tinto
Illinois miners win reinstatement of union stalwart
8,000 join May Day rally for steel strikers in Greece
Brazilian construction workers fight for better wages, conditions
‘Anti-terror’ laws target workers in Pakistan

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