Caterpillar Inc. presented the United Auto Workers with a new contract offer on Tuesday, and the union said it would deliver it to the membership this weekend for a possible vote, perhaps foretelling the end to a 17-month strike that has been this decade's most costly and dismal failure for the American labor movement.
During the walkout, the Peoria, Ill.-based company--the world's largest manufacturer of earth-moving equipment--has been able to post a run of record profits, demonstrating that a patched-together work force of temporaries, office workers and union line-crossers can effectively build quality tractors, while 9,000 UAW members are out on the street.
By late Tuesday, the rank-and-file were still waiting to hear details of the company's new proposal as their local leaders were closeted in meetings. Pessimism was rampant, however.
"I don't trust anyone anymore, not the union people from Detroit headquarters and certainly not the company," said Fay Vogelsang, on strike from Caterpillar's foundry. "They'd all sell you out for 30 pieces of silver."
Far more is at stake. Providing weekly strike pay of $300, the union has paid out more than $200 million during the struggle, about 10 times more than the AFL-CIO intends to spend next year on organization drives meant to revitalize the entire labor movement.
The current UAW leadership, elected last June, inherited the strike and undoubtedly wants it resolved as it heads into contract talks with the Big Three auto makers.
Cat's latest offer, reportedly a six-year contract, is likely to include terms that UAW members have been told for years are unacceptable: a lower tier of wages for many new hires, flexible scheduling that may require weekend work without overtime pay and a changeover into a managed-care health plan.