Caterpillar Awaits Return of Union Workers With AM-Strikebreaker Bill, Bjt
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ Thousands of United Auto Workers will carry lunch buckets, not picket signs, to Caterpillar Inc. this week for the first time in months. But no one expects a warm welcome back.
″It’s not going to be ‘happy valley’ in those plants,″ said Ronald Peters, a professor of labor at the University of Illinois. ″My guess, the workers will be pretty angry.
″They are going back without much to show after five months on strike,″ Peters said Friday.
Federal mediators announced Tuesday the union was ending its strike without conditions and would resume negotiations with Caterpillar.
After five winter months on picket lines, drawing $100 a week instead of their average $680 in wages, many union members wondered why they sacrificed for so long.
Several times before, union leaders had rejected the company’s offer to work while they negotiate. Suddenly and without explanation, the union gave in.
Although UAW members were disappointed by the union, they were furious at the company.
″The company has done everything it could to alienate us,″ said Pat Hern, a UAW machine operator with 26 years’ experience. ″It’s going to be a long four years until I retire.″
Caterpillar management backed off a threat to lay off some of the 12,600 union members who took part in the strike.
However, Caterpillar Group President Jerry Flaherty says ″there are many challenges remaining before we can bring this dispute to a close and hopefully this is a good beginning.
″We recognize this has been a very difficult period for our UAW- represented employees and their families,″ he said. ″We do think we will rebuild good working relations.″
Flaherty said about 1,000 UAW members crossed picket lines after the company issued its ultimatum to workers to return April 6 or risk losing jobs to replacement workers.
The company rewarded returning union members by allowing them to move into better jobs - such as transfering from evening shifts to day shifts - at the expense of UAW members with higher seniority who remained on the picket lines.
Now, the company says those who crossed the picket lines will not be displaced, meaning loyal UAW members coming back Monday may find themselves bumped to second shift or to lower-grade jobs.
″I don’t think it’s going to be too good for the guys who crossed the picket lines,″ said Pat Diaz, a metalworker with 19 years at Caterpillar. ″They will be shunned heavily. I wouldn’t want to be one of them. It will be rough on the shop floor.″