Bitter Feelings Persist as Caterpillar Workers Return With PM-Caterpillar-Competitiveness
EAST PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ Larry Spires got the cold shoulder from Caterpillar Inc. co-workers who feel he betrayed his union by crossing picket lines during a five-month strike.
″I never had a one of them speak to me all day,″ the 25-year employee said. ″It was just like I was in a different world and they were in theirs.″
Bitterness prevailed Monday as thousands of United Auto Workers began returning to their jobs at Caterpillar in Illinois after a strike that began Nov. 4. They agreed to go back without a new contract while talks continue.
Spires was among a small number of UAW members who crossed picket lines earlier this month after Caterpillar, the world’s biggest maker of earth- moving equipment, threatened to hire permanent replacements for the 12,600 strikers.
″I hope eventually we’ll be friends again,″ Spires said.
Workers are also frustrated because, after they had sacrificed $680 a week in average wages for months, UAW negotiators agreed April 14 to go back to work under the terms of the company’s final offer.
Employee anger intensified when Caterpillar said it planned to reduce its UAW work force by about 15 percent and then delayed the strikers’ return to work until this week. But the company backed off its threat to eliminate 1,350 UAW jobs and welcomed back all employees.
″I think a lot of people are kind of disgusted with the whole situation,″ said Tom Brown, a 20-year employee at Caterpillar’s Mapleton foundry. ″Nothing has really been resolved.″
″People aren’t going to go out of their way,″ he said. ″A lot of people are just waiting for the day they can get their retirement and get out. They feel hurt.″
The company held question-and-answer meetings Monday to let workers vent anger. More meetings are planned.
″We’re going to ... try to put ill feelings behind us,″ said Jim Despain, Caterpillar vice president. ″We want to re-develop the working relationship we had before the strike. We understand there are some sensitive feelings.″
About 70 percent of the UAW work force returned Monday, and Caterpillar spokesman Bill Lane said 90 percent should be recalled in the next two weeks.