(Reuters) — Unionized workers at the Caterpillar Inc. plant in Joliet, Illinois, have voted overwhelmingly to turn down a new six-year contract. The plant is now preparing for a strike.
UPDATE: Workers strike at U.S. Caterpillar plant
The world's largest maker of construction machinery does not expect a strike to disrupt production at this point.
The labour dispute in Joliet follows a high-profile conflict between Caterpillar and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) late last year. Caterpillar had employed hundreds of CAW-represented workers at a London, Ont. locomotive plant. The company closed the plant in February 2012 after failing to come to terms with the CAW.
The dispute in Joliet comes as Caterpillar is scrambling to meet growing demand for its machinery in North America. About 800 workers — represented by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) —are covered under a contract, which expires early on May 1.
The outcome of the vote, which took place on Sunday, was "unfortunate" and that the company hoped to avoid a work stoppage, Caterpillar spokesman Rusty Dunn said. But production will continue, even if the current workforce decides to walk out.
"The Joliet facility will continue to work safely, meet production levels and conduct business as usual as we focus on meeting customer needs," Dunn said. "Caterpillar has work plans, processes, policies and people ready to be deployed in the event of any business interruption, whether it is a tornado, fire or a strike."
Caterpillar and the IAM had been negotiating for more than a month, according to Dunn. The terms of the new labor pact were not disclosed, but Dunn said the company had put forth a "competitive contract offer."
IAM officials were not immediately available for comment.
IAM workers in the Joliet plant produce hydraulic components and systems for a variety of Caterpillar machines, including track-type tractors, wheel loaders and mining trucks.