Some US Caterpillar workers plan possible strike once contract expires

By Bianca Flowers

(Reuters) – Union workers at four Caterpillar Inc U.S. facilities have threatened to strike for wage increases, improved safety measures and better healthcare benefits once a six-year labor contract expires this week.

The contract, which covers roughly 7,000 union employees represented by the United Auto Workers at three manufacturing plants in central Illinois and a parts and distribution center in York, Pennsylvania, will end on March 1.

Unionized workers at the world’s largest construction and mining equipment manufacturer are pushing for a reversal of parts of prior contracts that they believe have stagnated wages, according to a statement released by a rank and file committee formed by Caterpillar workers.

“We’ve been losing every contract for decades – the 2017 contract was nowhere near what we needed,” the statement read.

An increase in strike activity at U.S.-based companies over the past two years has emboldened labor unions’ bargaining efforts to ensure cost-of-living adjustments keep pace with inflation that has driven up prices for basic necessities. A recent report from Cornell University that tracks work stoppages found that labor strikes were up 52% in 2022 from the year prior.

“I think this is a period where unions and workers can take advantage of the current labor market conditions to try to get back some of what they lost,” said Todd Vachon, an assistant professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University.

In January, union workers at the four Caterpillar facilities voted almost unanimously to authorize a strike, according to one local union’s Facebook page. It was not clear how many workers voted in favor. The company has more than 100,000 employees worldwide.

Caterpillar did not respond to a request for comment. However, the Irving, Texas-based company said on its website that it will “continue to operate our facilities” with management and contract workers.

Heavy machinery companies like Caterpillar and rival Deere & Co ramped up production to capitalize on growing demand from farmers and mining customers during a period of soaring grain and energy prices last year. A short supply of workers, experts said, has given unions bargaining power to negotiate better contracts.

(Reporting by Bianca Flowers in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)