UAW Rejects Caterpillar Contract

The United Auto Workers voted Sunday to reject a new contract with Caterpillar Inc., continuing its six-year dispute with the nation's larger maker of earth moving equipment.

Jim Clingan, president of Local 974, the union's largest Caterpillar local, says members nationwide voted 58 percent to 42 percent against the contract. The union hall in Peoria erupted in applause at the announcement.

Clingan did not know whether Caterpillar would agree to further contract negotiations.

``We'll keep moving,'' he said. ``We'll keep putting pressure on. The membership clearly spoke.''

Although the contract would have ended six years of uncertainty for workers in four states, it also required them to give way on some issues that twice led to long, bitter strikes.

Many union members were unhappy with the deal even though it would give them the security of a contract, which they have been working without since the fall of 1991.

The six-year contract proposal, supported by union leadership, offered raises to current Caterpillar workers, increased pension benefits job security until 2004.

The proposal would have lowered wages for new workers while giving the company greater power to limit overtime and use temporary workers, according to union sources.

But it also required that the union drop unfair labor practice complaints against Peoria-based Caterpillar and grant amnesty to members who abandoned strikes and returned to work.

And it did not require the world's leading maker of earth-moving and construction equipment to rehire union activists who were fired after the old contract expired.

"If we're going to give full amnesty to the scabs, the illegally terminated should get full amnesty, too," said Terry Lochbaum, an electrician with 30 years at Caterpillar.

The agreement would have covered roughly 13,000 Caterpillar workers, most of them at plants in Aurora, Decatur, East Peoria and Pontiac. It also covered smaller numbers in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Tennessee.

Five UAW locals voted on the offer Sunday; two others voted Saturday.

Despite the years of labor turmoil, Caterpillar has been setting record profits year after year almost $1.7 billion in 1997.

When the last contract expired, UAW members went on strike for more than five months, returning only when Caterpillar imposed the terms of its contract offer and threatened to replace anyone who did not go back to work.

That gave rise to charges of unfair labor practices by the union.

The union struck again in June 1994, saying the issue wasn't the contract but unfair labor practices. That walkout lasted 17 months.

Written by Christopher Wills.
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