As the United Auto Workers prepares to talk about future strategy, the UAW’s course may have already been staked out during the union’s recent negotiations with Caterpillar Tractor Co., in Peoria, Illinois.
While Detroit workers may be hoping to get back some of the big concessions they’ve made over recent years, the union agreed to a contract with Caterpillar including no raises for long-term or first-tier employees and a substantial boost in health care premiums.
Caterpillar workers ratified the new six-year contract, which doesn’t expire until 2017, at the beginning of March. The settlement sets out a bargaining pattern just as the UAW’s leadership prepares to turn its attention to talks with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group – negotiations set to begin over the summer.
The Caterpillar contract has served as the template for changes in the union’s contracts with Detroit’s automakers. Two-tier wages, the Voluntary Employee Benefit Association, or VEBA, as well as the wider use of temporary workers were all ideas first introduced during the union’s often contentious bargaining at Caterpillar.
In addition, all three automakers are certain to come under heavy pressure from Wall Street to match the terms won by Caterpillar in its new labor pact with the UAW – even though union leaders have been making noises suggesting they will push to gain back some of the concessions they’ve already given to Detroit’s Big Three..