Let’s Do Our Part


The Journal Star recently reported that Caterpillar had been dropped from some “socially responsible” mutual funds by the investment-support firm MSCI (http://www.pjstar.com/news/x1660539479/Caterpillar-pulled-from-indexes-tracking-socially-responsible-investments ).  The cascading effect was for the mutual fund company TIAA-CREF to divest itself of $72 million in Caterpillar stock from its "Social Choice" fund. A number of religious groups and pension funds are taking a hard look at their investments in Caterpillar as well.


The predominant reason cited for dropping Big Yellow was the use of Caterpillar D-9’s to bulldoze Palestinian housing in the Middle East. However, further in the report other reasons cited for dropping the company were the closing of the EMD plant in London, Ontario and ”employee safety concerns”. The fact that CAT was dropped from the “socially responsible” funds due, in part, to “employee safety concerns” was a bit puzzling. We know there are employee safety concerns, but how did MCSI know?  Caterpillar has not been shy about touting incredible (impossible) progress on safety metrics. We know that those metrics are self reported. We also know Caterpillar’s improvement in injury and illness metrics performance are, by and large, the result of practices which intentionally or unintentionally discourage self-reporting injuries, but how did MSCI know? Could the word be getting out?


I have personally had many workers from all business units, supplemental and full-time, both pre and post 2005 seniority; tell me they will not report injuries or illnesses because they fear retaliation for doing so. There are numerous cases where injuries that occur at work are not recorded on the injury and illness logs or are deemed to be non-work-related. I still hear of cases where workers are disciplined after reporting injuries or illnesses for a variety of reasons. Several have received discipline because they didn’t report an injury soon enough, but were not symptomatic at the time of the injury. Others are disciplined for violations of work rules that have never before been enforced.


I know of a case in East Peoria where a worker reported an electrical hazard and was ignored by his supervisor. What’s worse was that the worker was later ridiculed by his boss and told not to act like a baby because he was afraid of receiving an electrical shock. One day he thought he was being lightly shocked, so he asked a co-worker to verify what he felt. The co-worker concurred. When he received a substantial shock, and required treatment at First Aid, he was disciplined for not reporting it sooner and for putting another worker at risk. These are not the actions one would expect from a socially responsible corporation.


There have been large expenditures for fall protection at the Peoria Proving Grounds and the Tech Center, for which we can all be thankful, but what about our brothers and sisters in the Logistics facilities, don’t they deserve the same level of protection? I am told there are a number of UAW members who are exposed to fall hazards while operating order picking equipment. A number of these workers are required to wear full body harnesses equipped with 6’shock-absorbing lanyards to protect themselves in the event of a fall. The problem is that these 6’ lanyards only protect you if you are 18 ½ feet or more above the ground. If you are attached below that height, you’ll hit the ground…and anything or everything in between. (http://www.millerfallprotection.com/smart-solutions/connecting-devices/calculating-fall-clearance-3 ).


There are a number of people, specifically at the Tech Center, who have been instrumental in addressing the subject of falls from heights and giving the issue the priority attention it deserves. These people have led the way in developing educational programs and related policies and procedures. Simulated falls session have been conducted to critique the response to a fall and to improve the related procedures. In contrast, there are those who would appear to be satisfied with sitting on their hands, maybe waiting for an event to happen before they take action. That doesn’t sound very socially responsible, does it?


Some of the issues that still need attention are…In East Peoria; a number of our members are anxiously awaiting the arrival of new weld positioners. In addition to addressing worker exposure to ergonomic risk factors, there are long-standing concerns about the state of the cranes being used. In the Radiator Guard area, overhead hoists are on occasion shock-loaded while re-positioning the radiator guards. Despite the training they receive, I’m told that workers are not allowed to call to have a crane/hoist re-inspected when flipping a radiator guard gets a little rough. Who is to say when the equipment is actually safe to use, the supervisor or a trained crane inspection technician?


During 2011 contract negotiations, Caterpillar insisted on giving you the contractual obligation to report all of your health and safety concerns (Article 8.3 Stage 1). Specifically it says, An employee who believes that a condition has developed which presents a significant threat to his health or safety shall promptly notify his Supervisor of such condition. This is the contractual obligation Caterpillar wanted you to have. This does not mean you have to go fill out a C/I card nor does it have anything to do with CPS. Getting the issue addressed is between you and your supervisor.


If your safety concern is not addressed to your satisfaction, Article 8.3 Stage 2 says…the employee may request and the Supervisor shall, as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the employee’s next regularly scheduled shift, send for the Safety Subcommitteeman (if such there be) in whose jurisdiction the condition exists for the purpose of conducting a Stage 2 joint investigation of the problem with the Supervisor.


Caterpillar wants you to file Safety Complaints. If they didn’t, the language in 8.1 would not read, Therefore, the parties agree to place renewed attention, emphasis, and effort into the use of the local safety complaint procedure. These words are in specific reference to the negotiated safety complaint, not a C/I card. The C/I process was not negotiated, it was copied in large part from Toyota and does not involve your UAW Safety Representative—the Safety Complaint procedure does. A Safety Complaint will not get lost, fall out of the rack or be closed without you knowing about it. Your UAW Health and Safety Representative is your advocate, which is something you certainly don’t get with the C/I process.


What can we do to help Caterpillar become more socially responsible? The London, Ontario EMD plant is closed and the Middle East is a mess—we cannot do anything about these issues. However, together we can help Caterpillar change the current safety culture of arrogance and intimidation to a culture more fitting of a socially responsible company—a culture that truly wants to make the work environment safe and not just look safer on paper because people do not report injuries. Our only recourse is to follow the established policies and procedures. To do otherwise leaves us all “hanging in the wind”. Let’s do our part by making our concerns known and using the agreed upon safety complaint procedure to assure our issues are properly addressed so Caterpillar can once again be worthy of recognition for social responsibility.