JOLIET, Ill., July 23 (UPI) -- Record profits have not altered Caterpillar's reputation as an intractable, hard-ball opponent in U.S. labor disputes, experts said.
"Caterpillar has been a leader in the past 20 years in taking a hard line," The New York Times quoted Cornell University professor of industrial relations Richard Hurd as saying Monday.
Despite a 12-week strike by machinists at a hydraulic parts factory in Joliet, Ill., the company that made a record $4.9 billion in profits in 2011 has stuck to a take-it-or-leave-it contract offer that would freeze wages for six years for established workers -- those who have worked at the plant for seven years or more.
Those workers make an average of $26 per hour and $55,000 per year before overtime, the Times reported.
"A competitive and fair wage package is a must. Paying wages well above market levels makes Joliet uncompetitive," said the factory's operation manager Carlos Revilla in a statement.
While executives receive pay increases, the firm's stance is that it has to "keep (itself) competitive when times are bad," said company spokesperson Rusty Dunn.
"Caterpillar sees this as 'the new normal,' while this union local feels you have to draw a line in the sand to hold on," said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois.
About 780 workers have been on strike and are angry the company that made $39,000 per worker in profit in 2011 is also asking workers to contribute an additional $1,900 per year to their health insurance.
"Caterpillar believes in helping the very rich, but what they're doing would help eliminate the middle class," said Timothy O'Brien, president of Machinists Local Lodge 851.