United Steelworkers, Caterpillar reach labor contract agreement

SOUTH MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The United Steelworkers (USW) on Thursday, May 30th said that negotiators for Local 1343 have reached tentative agreement with Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) on a new labor contract for 803 hourly workers at the company’s South Milwaukee plant.

Union members will meet with their negotiating committee on June 9th to review the proposed agreement, which the committee unanimously recommended for ratification when ballots are cast on June 11th.

Earlier this week, 34 representatives from the IndustriALL Global Union Caterpillar Trade Union Network signed a letter to Caterpillar CEO Douglas Oberhelman expressing solidarity with the Steelworkers in South Milwaukee and urging the company to negotiate in good faith with the USW for a fair contract.

Union leaders from Caterpillar locations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia representing thousands of the company’s employees met this week in Esher, U.K., specifically to share information about the world’s largest manufacturer of mining equipment and build solidarity between workers.

Thursday's news comes one month after Caterpillar workers voted NO on a six-year contract proposal.

"The contract was rejected by the members of Local 1343," United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1343 spokesman Ross Winklbauer said.

The vote was reportedly an overwhelming "no."

Workers at Caterpillar Global Mining in South Milwaukee had until 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30th to cast their vote for or against a new contract proposal. The vote came on the same day the previous contract was set to expire.

Workers voted on a contract that Caterpillar has described as a six-year agreement which includes a $2,500 upfront bonus for all employees if it's ratified. That incentive may have been what made the vote a tough one for some of the 803 United Steelworkers union members.

The contract would have also eliminated reduced work-week provisions, made changes to health care and retirement benefits, put in place a new wage scale for employees hired after May 1st, and freeze wages for current employees for six years.

Caterpillar says wages are above the market significantly. Officials say remaining so would put the company at a disadvantage. But some workers argue Caterpillar has some of the best workers.

A union spokesperson told FOX6 News the union was not endorsing the contract — nor were they asking members to vote it down.

The union issued a statement following the failed vote on Tuesday, saying "The USW is instructing all members of Local 1343 to continue reporting for work at Caterpillar as scheduled."

"The bargaining committee and myself will get together and look at different options. Plus we will be in conversations with the company and basically see if they are willing to sit down and start to meet again. There's the strike as a possibility, a lockout as a possibility," said Ross Winklbauer, of United Steelworkers.

Kevin Jaskie is the president of the local union chapter and a Caterpillar welding instructor. He estimates someone has quit from the plant every other day for the last four months to look for something better.

"Our intention is to keep our company, and we believe it's a part of our company as well, and we have a stake in it we want it to be successful.  We just don't want to be exploited," Jaskie said.