Caterpillar to Unions: Drop Dead
For decades, executives at unionized companies have harbored the fantasy that they could dictate the wages, benefits and working conditions of their employees, just like non-union firms. What stood in their way was the unions’ ability to mount a strike that would prove more costly than paying above-market compensation. In the language of economics, the strike gave workers market power.
Now, at a hydraulics plant in Joliet, Ill., this corporate fantasy is about to become economic reality. Thanks to globalization, declining union density and years of chipping away at labor laws, Caterpillar is set to prove that even unionized companies can operate as if they have no union at all.
It’s no longer just a matter of getting unions to agree to “concessions” and “give-backs” in order to save their plants or avoid corporate bankruptcy, as happened in the steel and auto industries. As Caterpillar aims to demonstrate in Joliet, even a thriving, global powerhouse posting record profits can take a strike and impose market-level wages and benefits on its unionized workers.
It’s been three months since Local 851 of the International Association of Machinists voted overwhelming to reject Caterpillar’s “best and final” offer and go out on strike. In terms of negotiations, there really haven’t been any. From the outset, Caterpillar made it clear that there really wasn’t anything to negotiate.