Caterpillar, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of earthmoving equipment, has reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, averting a possible strike at four of its plants. The agreement covers nearly 7,000 employees whose six-year contract expired on March 1. No details of the agreement have been released yet. Union members will review the agreement and set a vote at upcoming ratification meetings.
The potential work stoppage was avoided after the UAW had cast ballots on a strike authorization vote on January 27, which reportedly picked up a 98% approval but did not call for a strike. The union had the ability to do so if deemed necessary. Caterpillar’s goal is to negotiate an agreement that will help them avoid a strike. Their focus is to ensure that the facilities will continue operation as the company cannot afford for work to stop.
Caterpillar had a pattern of strikes in the 1960s and ’70s, but the worst strike happened in 1994 when UAW workers went on strike over unfair labor practices, which ended after 17 months. The company does not shy away from acknowledging its intended approach to strikes, and all its likely actions have been made publicly available on their website.
Caterpillar’s position on strikes includes preparing a contingent workforce made up of support, management, and contract workers should a work stoppage or strike occur. In addition, the company has also made it clear that in the case of a strike the health care coverage provided would be lifted. After the approval of the previous agreement in 2017, the union members have had the same healthcare plan as salaried and management employees. The company at this point has done all that they can to avoid any potential work stoppage.
Prior to reaching an agreement and before any negotiations, a rank-and-file committee of Cat workers made its own statement of demands, including the elimination of the wage and benefit tier system, more time off, and fewer healthcare premiums. Caterpillar had a successful year in 2022, with full-year sales and revenues of $59.4 billion, up from $51 billion in 2021.