Caterpillar Strike Enters Second Full Day
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ Employees at Caterpillar Inc. on Wednesday walked picket lines rather than working assembly lines, the 11th strike in the past three years at the earth- moving equipment maker.
On the second full day of a nationwide strike by the United Auto Workers union, which represents 14,000 workers at the company, Caterpillar stepped up pressure by reporting mass defections and placing print and broadcast ads for new workers.
Some workers considered crossing picket lines, while others vowed not to return to their jobs until they get more respect.
″If I’m the last one out here, that’s OK. I’ll lose everything I got before I go back,″ said Jerry Anderson, a 29-year employee.
The strike began late Monday at a plant in Mapleton, Ill., after an aborted 40-minute negotiating session - the first in two years - produced no progress toward settling union grievances or an almost 3-year-old contract dispute.
By Tuesday night the strike had spread to Denver, York, Pa., and five more plants in Illinois.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued 92 complaints against Caterpillar for unfair labor practices, the most ever filed against a company in a single dispute. The UAW had set a Tuesday evening strike deadline unless those disputes were resolved, which they were not.
Caterpillar president Jerry Flaherty said the UAW is pursuing a flawed strategy and blamed bruised egos on both sides for dragging out the bitter dispute.
″Bill Casstevens has made this into a holy war over the American dream,″ Flaherty said in an interview, referring to the UAW’s secretary treasurer. ″This is about a contract for Caterpillar, its people and its communities. We don’t represent the entire manufacturing industry.″
UAW officials said their workers remained solidly behind their union.
But some workers said they were weary of rancorous disputes between their union and employer - including a 163-day strike that collapsed in 1992.
″I’m sick and tired of it. Both sides are wrong,″ said an employee just four months from retirement. He declined to give his name, saying he feared retribution.
″We’re not even out of debt from the last time,″ said Joyce Toothman, the wife of striking worker Jim Toothman. ″I’m so frustrated I could cry.″
Labor analysts called the strike a pivotal showdown that has high stakes for all involved.
″There is extraordinary psychological pressure on those who are honoring the strike,″ said Ronald Seeber, a labor relations expert at Cornell University in New York. ″A lot of real smart UAW members are thinking about the picket line and know they don’t want to sit on that picket line another five months.″
Jack Metzger, a labor expert at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said Caterpillar is jeopardizing its future and position as the world’s leading maker of earth-moving equipment with its hard-line approach.
Caterpillar risks losing sales if orders go unfilled.
The company has enjoyed five consecutive quarterly profits, including its best quarter ever in the first three months of 1994, when it earned $192 million, compared with $34 million in the first quarter of 1993.
The union says the strike is about unfair labor conditions, which would prevent Caterpillar by federal law from hiring permanent replacement workers. Caterpillar says the union is pushing for a better contract, which would mean strikers could be replaced.
The NLRB, and ultimately the federal courts, will decide the cause of the strike - a dispute both sides say could take years to resolve.
The company threatened to hire replacements when it successfully crushed the 163-day strike and imposed its final contract offer in 1992.
On Wednesday, it began advertising for factory jobs but said the jobs were new permanent positions and not replacements for striking workers.
Flaherty said each worker who crosses the picket lines pushes back any decision by the company to hire permanent replacements - a possibility he describes as remote.
Flaherty said the number of union members who crossed picket lines Wednesday ″increased significantly″ over the 1,100 he said crossed on Tuesday. He declined to give a total. The UAW said the earlier figure was grossly inflated, and that few had crossed the line.
The two sides have been at odds since contract talks first started in September 1991. Union objections to the company’s final offer center on issues of pay, health-care coverage, scheduling and other work rules.