“Today, we have gaps in our workforce. We have trouble filling highly skilled positions like engineers and scientists,” Oberhelman said on Monday at the kick-off of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition in Chicago.
“We also have trouble filling many lower-skilled positions.
“When we recruit engineers from the University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, Stanford or wherever, we want the brightest talent.
“I really don’t care if that person was born in Chicago or India or England.
“I want that talent working for Caterpillar, not one of those competitors around the world.”
But according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Cat spokesman Rusty Dunn said the need to attract and retain highly trained foreign workers was a completely separate issue from the lay-offs of blue-collar workers locally.
The IBIC includes leaders from Peoria-based Caterpillar, as well as Motorola Solutions, the University of Illinois, trade groups and immigration-rights advocates.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel backs the coalition and commented at the launch.
“It’s time to put partisanship aside and focus on the economic contributions that immigrants have made throughout Chicago’s and our country’s history,” Emanuel said.
“We all agree that immigration doesn’t just promote our values – it creates value for our businesses, our residents and our communities.”
Oberhelman and the IBIC are calling for a proposal to “staple” a green card to advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math as well as to provide a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.
“We would really like to see more H-1B visas, which are an important tool for hiring foreign nationals who receive their advanced engineering degrees in the United States,” Oberhelman said.
“Currently, the number of H-1B visas is capped each year without regard to the current market demand.
“But the H-1B issue is just the tip of the iceberg. We need common sense, realistic immigration solutions that can help keep America strong.”
Oberhelman repeated his stance on the issue the following day at the 26th annual Innovations Conference on Asphalt and Transportation.
Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of mining and construction equipment, informed employees at its South Milwaukee plant last Thursday that there would be lay-offs but did not specify a number, while union officials speculated it could be as many as 300 people.
The company employs 800 people at the heavy equipment production line it acquired from Bucyrus and blames the cuts on slow sales.
Talks between Caterpillar and the United Steelworkers Union will begin this week and are expected to discuss the cuts as well as a contract between the two parties which is due to expire at the end of April.