A deeply divided United Auto Workers union
approved a new contract with Caterpillar Inc. on Sunday, deciding
to end a 6 1/2-year contract battle and instead build strength for the
Just over 54 percent of the union workers voting approved the
deal, the UAW said in a statement. The largest UAW local, East
Peoria's Local 974, supported the contract 55 percent to 45
percent, officials said, and results were similar elsewhere. Only
Decatur's Local 751 rejected it, 30 percent to 70 percent.
"The agreement represents economic progress, security for the
future and, perhaps above all, justice and dignity," said UAW
President Steven Yokich.
The contract covers roughly 13,000 Caterpillar workers, most of
them at plants in Aurora, Decatur, East Peoria and Pontiac. It also
covers smaller numbers in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Tennessee.
Wayne Zimmerman, Caterpillar's chief negotiator, said the
company ended up with a better deal than the one it sought when the
old deal expired in 1991. He added that there is no guarantee the
company won't face the same problems when this contract expires
April 1, 2004.
"I don't think the fact that we didn't have a labor contract
caused the company to learn anything" as far as dealing with the
union, said Zimmerman, Caterpillar's vice president. "We learned a
little bit how to run our business better."
The contract offers raises and job security for workers who have
endured years of strikes, legal battles and uncertainty. And it
gives about 160 workers fired during the strike their jobs back,
starting as early as March 30.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's been a long time" said George
Boze, a Local 974 vice president and one of the fired workers who
will return to work. "The real victory in this struggle is the
fact that after 6 1/2 years, the membership was able to stay together
well enough that the company had to come back to the table and
But the contract also contains many provisions that started the
feud in the first place, including a two-tiered wage system and
limits on overtime pay.
"What are we going to do if they hire 1,000 people next week at
$10 an hour and start displacing us? We have no protection against
that," said John Backes, a 24-year Caterpillar worker and former
candidate for president of the Peoria-area local. "It's time for
us to unite and try to rebuild this union."
The last time the union faced this question, a month ago, the
members rejected the contract 58 percent to 42 percent. But that
was when the company was refusing to re-hire some workers the union
believes were fired illegally.
That was a sore spot with many union members, who considered the
fate of the "illegally terminated" a matter of honor especially
when Caterpillar wanted the union to take back members who had
abandoned UAW strikes.
So Caterpillar came back with an offer to re-hire all 160 of the
disputed workers and arbitrate the cases of 200 others whose
firings were not related to the contract battle.
The contract also lowers wages for new workers and gives the
company greater power to limit overtime and use temporary workers.
It introduces insurance co-payments for retirees. But current
Caterpillar workers get raises and increased pension benefits,
along with job security until 2004.
Union leaders said it was the best deal they could get and urged
The UAW and Caterpillar have battled since their last contract
expired Sept. 30, 1991. In essence, the union wanted to follow the
pattern used in past contracts, but Caterpillar wanted more power
to trim its work force, hold down pay and bring in temporary
The dispute led to two long strikes, but Caterpillar managed to
force the union back to work both times, primarily by hiring
replacement workers and luring union members across the picket
The Peoria-based company the world's leading maker of
earth-moving and construction equipment has achieved record
profits despite the years of turmoil. It made almost $1.7 billion
Many workers say the dispute has permanently damaged their
relationship with the company.
"It caused a lot of hard feelings and bitterness," said Larry
Wilson Primm, one of the workers fired by Caterpillar. "My kids
and my grandkids will never work at Caterpillar. They know what