Back To Bargaining Table For Steel Workers, Cat In Milwaukee?

10,000 PEOPLE PARADE through Milwaukee on May Day, demonstrating for rights for undocumented workers.  It was one of 70 such marches, with heavy union participation, nationwide

10,000 PEOPLE PARADE through Milwaukee on May Day, demonstrating for rights for undocumented workers. It was one of 70 such marches, with heavy union participation, nationwide

MILWAUKEE —It may be back to the bargaining table for the Steel Workers and Caterpillar in Milwaukee, a day after the local union’s members rejected the heavy equipment firm’s 6-year contract with a total wage freeze – and one week after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed the local a win against the company.

The workers, members of USW Local 1343, voted overwhelmingly on May 1 against Cat’s contract offer, the union announced. No vote totals were released. But the 803 union workers at Cat’s South Milwaukee plant, who make mining equipment, will continue working under terms of the old contract, USW President Leo Gerard said.

Cat also wanted to increase employee contributions for healthcare benefits, weaken security for unionized workers and impose a two-lower starting pay for new hires, news reports said.

Gerard encouraged both sides “to find creative solutions and reasonable compromises to resolve issues at the table. Steelworkers in South Milwaukee have earned and deserve a fair contract that preserves these family and community-sustaining middle class jobs for the long term. We also understand that a strong, healthy company means more security for our employment, earnings and benefits.”

Cat’s taking another view, however. It’s preparing, it said, to lay off 40% of the workers at the plant. It claims business is slack. And it resolutely ignores USW’s point that the firm has plenty of money – enough to pay its CEO $32 million last year.

The vote came a week after the NLRB ruled 3-0 that Cat illegally barred Steel Workers job safety and health specialist Sharon Thompson, sent from national union headquarters in Pittsburgh, from the plant. She went there following a fatal accident on Sept. 8, 2011, when a multi-ton crawler crushed worker Jeffrey Smith to death. After first agreeing to let her in, Cat reneged. It sent USW a DVD re-creation of the tragedy.

Barring Thompson broke labor law, the board said. “Under the circumstances presented here, implicating significant health and safety matters, the respondent’s (Cat’s) property rights must yield to the employees’ right to responsible representation,” the board ruled. “Health and safety matters are mandatory subjects of bargaining.

“There can be no adequate substitute for the union representative’s direct observation of the plant equipment and conditions, and employee operations and working conditions…The union critically needed…to directly observe the manufacturing area, where a fatality occurred. A conclusive finding on causation would have permitted the union to enter into an intelligent dialogue with Caterpillar regarding ways to enhance workplace safety, and could have ultimately prevented another senseless tragedy.” ###
Press Associates, Inc. (PAI) – 5/3/2013