Union, Caterpillar return to negotiations with mediator

Strike in Joliet, Illinois enters third week, company distributes letter to employees
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 05/17/2012

The union representing nearly 800 workers currently on strike a Caterpillar Inc. plant in Joliet, Illinois will be meeting with the company and a federal minister on May 17, according to International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 851.

Negotiations haven’t taken place during the 17-day-old strike.

“Caterpillar representatives have agreed to attend,” Caterpillar spokesman Rusty Dunn told the Joliet Herald News.

Earlier this week, Caterpillar sent a letter explaining its final offer to striking employees.

In the letter, Caterpillar claims its final offer doesn’t contain a wage cut and includes incentive pay based on the company’s profitability and overall performance. The company also says health care benefit changes would be reflective of the market and be similar to cuts other Caterpillar employees have already experienced. The company proposes employees contribute 10 per cent for health care, increasing to 20 per cent by 2017.

­The union is claiming the proposed contract contains freeze wages, health care premiums at more than double the current rate, and it eliminates pensions and seniority rights.

Currently, unionized workers have a two-tier wage system. Workers in the lower tier make about $10 to $18 per hour, while senior workers can make up to $28 per hour.

Caterpillar's six-year contract offer had included a $5,000 ratification payment and participation in the company's annual bonus plan.

The plant produces hydraulic components and systems for a variety of Caterpillar machines, including track-type tractors, wheel loaders and mining trucks.

IAM's strike follows a high-profile labour dispute that took place late last year between Caterpillar and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) at a locomotive plant in London, Ont. CAW workers voted down a Caterpillar offer that was asking some workers to take a 50 per cent wage cut. The company ended up closing the plant and moving the work elsewhere in February.

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