The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 34      September 24, 2012

IAM accepts Caterpillar
contract after 3-month strike
JOLIET, Ill.—After three and a half months on strike, members of International Association of Machinists Local 851 voted Aug. 17 to accept the latest offer from Caterpillar. Union officials have not released the vote totals.

The six-year contract includes three provisions that differ from those in the original Caterpillar offer rejected twice by workers.

The approved agreement provides for a one-time wage increase for workers hired after May 2005—3 percent or a “market-based increase, whichever is greater.” For those hired before that date wages are frozen.

It limits the amount of time that bosses can change workers’ shifts or job classifications out of seniority to a 90-day period. It also includes a $3,100 signing bonus.

The main contract provisions workers opposed from the beginning remain part of the agreement.

Caterpillar will be allowed to expand the use of “supplemental” workers to 20 percent of the workforce. Health care premiums will double. Defined benefit pensions and cost-of-living increases will be eliminated and seniority rights significantly diminished.

“Nobody thinks this is a fair contract,” Corey Jones, a machinist for seven years and shop steward, told the Militant after voting against the proposal. “I don’t doubt we’ll overcome it, but we took a huge hit. Some people are very upset because of how close the vote was. Most wanted to stay out and fight but couldn’t because of financial problems.”

“I hate to give up a fight, but I don’t think there is anything more to get,” Bob Jessen, who has worked at the plant since 1974 and voted for the contract, told the Wall Street Journal Aug. 17.

“My savings are rapidly diminishing and with no health insurance it’s hurting my family, but I would never cross the picket line because of my coworkers. I never want bad blood between us,” John Donaldson, a machinist for two years, said to the Militant. He didn’t say how he voted.

Just over 100 workers out of 780 crossed the picket line during the strike.

“The majority of the local negotiating committee, five out of six, including myself, encouraged people to vote the contract down,” Tim O’Brien, president of Local 851, said in a phone interview.

The international and district pressed for a “yes” vote.

During the battle with Caterpillar, which began May 1 when 780 members of Local 851 walked off the job, strikers organized 24-hour pickets. Unionists and other supporters visited the picket line daily to show solidarity and deliver donations. Strikers received more than $90,000 in contributions and donations to their food bank.

“What Caterpillar’s contract proposals show is that this is a corporate-run country,” Jim Aagesen, a 38-year-old tool and die machinist, told the Militant as workers were waiting for the vote results to be announced. These corporations “want to get away from any form of responsibility for workers once they retire and from any sort of responsibility for helping cover the cost of workers’ health care.”

“This fight is beyond us, what’s happening needs to bring the working class together,” said Mike Kara, a machinist for over 17 years, who voted against the contract.
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