July 23, 2012
Steven Greenhouse (NY TImes) has an article today about a recent strike at Caterpillar. The company, never afraid to fight a union, is bringing things up a notch by demanding significant cuts from workers at the same time it's making large profits. The union, not suprisingly, is not willing to go along. From the article:
Despite earning a record $4.9 billion profit last year and projecting even better results for 2012, the company is insisting on a six-year wage freeze and a pension freeze for most of the 780 production workers at its factory here. Caterpillar says it needs to keep its labor costs down to ensure its future competitiveness.
The company’s stance has angered the workers, who went on strike 12 weeks ago. . . . Caterpillar, which has significantly raised its executives’ compensation because of its strong profits, defended its demands, saying many unionized workers were paid well above market rates. To run the factory during the strike, the company is using replacement workers, managers and a few union members who have crossed the picket line.
The showdown, which has no end in sight, is being closely watched by corporations and unions across the country because it involves two often uncompromising antagonists — Caterpillar and the International Association of Machinists — that have figured in many high-stakes labor battles.
As the article states, Caterpillar seems to be trying to establish lower wages as the "new normal." Only time will tell if they suceed.
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Unfortunately, Caterpillar completely succeeded this past winter in London, Ontario. The company locked out its workers and then closed the plant and moved the jobs to Indiana, the newest "right-to-work" state. The company was demanding 55% wage cuts, while refusing to agree to any cuts in executive salaries.
I had the privilege of walking the picket line with locked out workers this past January in the bitter cold of London. As a visiting professor of law at the University of Western Ontario, I was able to give my comparative labour law class a real world labor law experience by having them visit the workers on the line. The experience affected many of them deeply.
The hope is that enough people eventually become outraged by Caterpillar and take appropriate economic action in return.
Posted by: Paul M. Secunda | Jul 23, 2012 3:13:11 PM
I certainly hope that those "union members who have crossed the picket line" had the wit to resign before they did so, so that the union doesn't victimize them with fines.
Posted by: James Young | Jul 24, 2012 8:22:41 AM