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2013 April 1 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Labor Union Asks Wis. College To Stop Training

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A labor union has accused Caterpillar Inc. of training nonunion workers as replacements in case next month’s labor negotiations stall.

United Steelworkers Local 1343 said Caterpillar placed about 25 nonunion employees in Milwaukee Area Technical College’s welder-training program, and union officials asked the college to stop the program and return any training materials to the company, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“Please don’t allow MATC to be used as a pawn in Caterpillar’s union-busting games,’’ the Steelworkers wrote to college President Michael Burke.

Milwaukee Area Technical College said it received the Steelworkers’ request but added that it has a contract with Caterpillar.

“Part of MATC’s mission is being responsive to the needs of businesses in our district, and this contract is an example of that,” college spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl said.

MATC’s stance doesn’t sit well with the college’s faculty members, said Michael Rosen, an economics instructor at the college and the president of the union representing the faculty. He accused Caterpillar of using MATC and its training program as a bargaining chip, and said his sympathies are with the Steelworkers.

Caterpillar spokesman Jim Baumgartner acknowledges that the company placed nonunion employees into the program. He said the move was part of a normal precautionary plan that Caterpillar goes through for any union labor situation.

These will be the first contract negotiations since Caterpillar acquired the South Milwaukee plant as part of its purchase of the former Bucyrus International in 2010. In a note to union members, Local 1343 officials said they’re expecting the negotiations to be tough.

Caterpillar said the training is only for current nonunion employees and hasn’t advertised for outside replacement workers.

Last summer, the company looked for replacements to fill in for striking workers at a plant in Joliet, Ill. That strike lasted about three months and involved nearly 800 workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The Steelworkers accuse Caterpillar of taking other steps to prepare for a possible strike in Wisconsin, including training managers for manufacturing work.

“Our members have been told they are required to train these people on their jobs, up to and including allowing them to run their jobs,” said Ross Winklbauer, a Steelworkers official. “We feel it’s an intimidation tactic.”

Baumgartner said Caterpillar’s efforts don’t mean the company is expecting a strike but it will remain in training mode just in case.

“We are hopeful there won’t be a work stoppage,” Baumgartner said.

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