Cat, USW set new talks

FOLLOWING a breakdown in negotiations earlier this month, equipment maker Caterpillar and the United Steelworkers union are set to return to the negotiation table Thursday in Wisconsin to try to hammer out a new contract.

Donna Schmidt

The return will be the first time the two have come together in two weeks. When the sides walked away on May 9, no more talks were scheduled though officials anticipated that a walkout would likely not be in the cards.

The now-expired union contract was in effect through April 30, however, the workers rejected an offer from the OEM in early May that would have frozen wages for workers and created a lower second-tier pay level for new employees.

The USW represents about 800 Cat workers at its South Milwaukee shovel and dragline plant, all of whom have continued to report for work under that contract’s terms.

The Wisconsin operation was taken over by Cat following its 2010 Bucyrus acquisition.

A Caterpillar spokesman said at the time of the breakdown that the last offer it presented was competitive and told Reuters it was “open to listening” to union workers despite no immediate plans to return to negotiations.

However, the official also said concessions were necessary because of the slump in global mining industry sales.

USW sub-district director Ross Winklbauer told the Milwaukee Business Journal that Cat had not been interested in the union’s counteroffers but its membership remained interested in continuing “good-faith negotiations”

According to financial filings, Caterpillar – based in Peoria, Illinois – closed the 2012 financial year on strong footing.

Chief executive officer Doug Oberhelman closed 2012 with a 32% rise in his compensation to $22.4 million.

On a related labor note, one of Cat’s largest facilities at Decatur in Illinois has suffered two waves of furloughs in as many months, with the latest earlier this month.

As a result of both rounds of job cuts, about 760 of Cat’s workers will be sent to the unemployment line by the northern summer.

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