UAW Makes A Pact With Caterpillar

United Auto Workers leaders have reluctantly endorsed a contract proposal from Caterpillar Inc. that could end a divisive dispute involving thousands of workers in four states. The situation has dragged on for about seven years.

Caterpillar Vice President Wayne Zimmerman said the company is "very happy and satisfied" with the tentative agreement, reached early Friday. UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker avoided praising the deal, probably because parts of the proposal will be painful for loyal union members to support.

"We're pleased to have the negotiations behind us," Shoemaker said. "We're confident the agreement will be ratified by the membership." That vote probably will be held the weekend of February 21.

Neither side would discuss details of the tentative agreement, which covers approximately 13,000 Caterpillar employees in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Tennessee.

UAW members have been without a contract since September 1991. The union had staged two massive strikes and a flurry of brief walkouts without success.

"The members are going to have the final decision, and it will not be an easy one for them, as it was not for me," said Jim Clingan, president of UAW Local 974 in East Peoria, Ill., and part of the team that voted to recommend the deal. "When they look at the whole package, I think most of them will come to the conclusion it's the right thing to do."

If the contract is ratified, many workers might find it difficult to accept the dismissal of hundreds of federal complaints against the company. The UAW made many of the complaints a matter of honor and went on strike for 17 months in protest. Now Caterpillar and the UAW have asked the National Labor Relations Board to dismiss the complaints.

Caterpillar is the world's leading maker of earth-moving and construction equipment. Despite its labor turmoil, the company has set record profits year after year, with almost US$1.7 billion in 1997.

In summary:

  • The contract would run for six years, rather than the typical three.
  • It would allow a lower tier of wages for some workers, union sources say.
  • The deal also calls for the union to re-admit members who abandoned strikes and returned to their jobs.
  • Caterpillar agreed to include the time union members spent on strike when calculating retirement eligibility.
  • Caterpillar reportedly will rehire some workers the UAW feels were fired illegally for union activism. Workers who aren't rehired would have their cases submitted to binding arbitration.

    Written by Christopher Wills ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed