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UAW Strike Against Tractor Company Ends; 20,000 Will Return to Work After 6 Months


PEORIA, III--Caterpillar Tractor Co. workers will someday see their record six-and-a-half-month strike as "one of the most foolish things that ever happened, "the mayor said after approval of a wage-freeze agreement that reopened the company's plants yesterday.

For Peoria, a central Illinois river city where one in five paychecks had come from the heavy-equipment maker, the end of the 205-day strike means a boost to morale and to the economy.

More than 12,000 United Auto Workers union members were to return in work at Caterpillar plants between 11 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. yesterday, and about 8000 more were to begin work today.

The day will come when people look back and see the strike as one of the most foolish things that ever happened," Peoria Mayor Richard Carver said Saturday. The strike against the Peoria-based manufacturer was the UAW's longest against a major company.

Caterpillar workers drew $65 strike pay weekly for 29 1/2 weeks, a period that otherwise would have brought a typical Caterpillar assembly-line employee between $13,000 and $18,000.

I think the vote to accept the three-and-a-half-year contract is a reflection to the fact that they are in fact, down to their last penny and needed to get back to work Jim O Connor president of UAW local 974 in Peoria said Friday. His local is the largest of 10 UAW locals at Caterpillar plants in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa. Ohio Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Caterpillar spokesman Doug Crew said Saturday ""We are pleased that the agreement has been ratified. We believe that everyone will put the strike behind them and get back to business."

Caterpillar said as many as 3000 non union office workers laid off during the strike will also report for work Monday Workers at non UAW plants in Joliet, III., and Milwaukee will be called back to work as they are needed, starting in the next few weeks.

There were 20,400 UAW members working at Caterpillar at the time of the strike and 15,000 more on indefinite layoff. Crew denied reports that another big layoff is imminent, saying only, "We have said all along that any layoff depends on economic condition.

In announcing the 10,703 to 5144 vote for ratification nationwide Saturday, UAW International Vice President Stephen P. Yokich said the struggle by union members "prevented Caterpillar from taking away the scores of gains the union has made over the past 34 years," The proposal had been rejected by the union's bargaining committee.

Caterpillar had sought cost containment throughout negotiations which began in September in Bridgeton, Mo. The company lost $180 million last year its first time in the red since the Depression.

The new pact contained a wage freeze, reduction in bonus time paid for perfect attendance, and a profit-sharing plan and employee stock ownership option.

$19 an Hour

Caterpillar workers make more than $19 per hour Although the new contract freezes wages, there will be pay increases through quarterly cost-of-living allowances. The union also has its first profit-sharing plan at Caterpillar, including a guaranteed payment of at least 31 cents per hour to be distributed by April 1985 for each hour worked in 1984.

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