This past weekend, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn visited striking Caterpillar workers in Joliet to deliver them a $10,000 check. The public display of solidarity, lifted from his reelection fund, was intended to help feed some of the workers who are experiencing financial woes due to their strike.
The visit placed Quinn deeper into a labor dispute than any Governor in recent memory (except for, perhaps, Nikki Haley who was on the anti-labor side of the Boeing fight). CEO Douglas Oberhelman has been critical of the state government, potentially spurring Quinn on.
Under a blue tent surrounded by 100 striking workers, Quinn echoed a familiar rally cheer saying, “When people are united, they can’t be defeated.” He spoke to the workers of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Local 851 and fielded questions.
“Help us and we’ll help you,” said a woman as he greeted her. “Talk to corporate for us,” said another.
“We believe in you,” replied Quinn, who said hoped his donation would feed people in need. He often repeated: “Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You are not the best.’”
There is fear among workers in Joliet that the company will move its operations out of Illinois. In March of 2011, Oberhelman sent a letter to Quinn, who has also been supportive of construction workers of late, informing him that three other states were trying to “woo” him. With this weekend’s action, Quinn made waves among workers:
“It’s a shot in the arm. It’s good to see someone cares a bit. Maybe that’s what we need to bring more attention to our fight,” said Mike Kinkin, 59.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Caterpillar vs. Local 851 showdown is a bellwether for future contract negotiations, not unlike the Boeing battle last year:
Labor experts have been closely watching the strike because the outcome has the potential to define future contract negotiations. Caterpillar is demanding concessions even though its financial performance has been stellar. Caterpillar has maintained that its offer is fair.
In July, the company reported a second-quarter profit of $1.7 billion, or $2.54 per share, up 67 percent from the year-earlier period. Second-quarter revenue was $17.4 billion, up 22 percent.
22 percent. Say it again, and then think about a wage freeze or pension slash.