IAM Members at Caterpillar Tell Their Story

Three months on a picket line is guaranteed to generate stories of personal sacrifice and collective solidarity about union members willing to ‘walk the walk.’ The members of Local 851 in Joliet, IL, on strike at heavy equipment maker Caterpillar, are drawing widespread attention and considerable praise for their determination and their belief that some fights are too important to walk away from.

In a recent interview broadcast nationally on National Public Radio (NPR), IAM members were portrayed as solid citizens pushed too far by a company that earned record profits last year and then proposed a contract that eliminated pensions and sharply increased health care premiums. “This company is a global leader,” said Local 851 Negotiating Committee member Joe Ahern in the NPR interview. “I don’t understand why they would want to see their employees paid that way … or why they have to be below the bar on their wages and benefits.”

The Chicago Sun-Times similarly published a lengthy article detailing how members of Local 851 are providing for their families while maintaining a positive attitude.

Local 851 member Randy Yates describes how family savings and income from his wife’s job combine with his weekly strike pay and groceries from the union’s food pantry to help his family of five get by.  

The food pantry has been stocked by community organizations and fellow union members, including the United Auto Workers from Caterpillar’s Pontiac plant who sponsored a food drive and sent a 17-foot trailer filled with food for the Machinists of Local 851.

No matter how hard his finances are squeezed, Yeates says he won’t be tempted to go back to work until a new contract is approved by union members who overwhelmingly rejected two offers from the company since their seven-year pact expired on April 30.

“I’d never cross the line,” declared Yeates. “I’m not going to be that person.”

Click here to view a photo gallery of Local 851 members profiled in the Chicago Sun Times article.