What Is It Going To Take?


As I write this, one of our union brothers from Local 974 lies in a hospital bed. He’s been there for the last twelve days and will be there for many more days, the victim of a workplace “accident”. He had company last week when another brother from a different plant spent the night in the same hospital after cheating death in another “accident”. In both cases, actions which would have prevented these “accidents” were quickly taken after the fact, even though they were known before the fact.


April 28th is Workers Memorial Day and hopefully there will be no members of this local added to the roster of the fallen read each year at the Civic Center. If you have not made it to the ceremony to honor those workers who lost their lives on the job, you should make an effort to attend. Sadly, real changes in workplace health and safety oftentimes only come after the blood of workers is spilled.


What is it going to take to make our benevolent employer understand that the only way to achieve the lofty safety goals they endlessly talk about is to fully involve the union in health and safety? When the crane fell from the ceiling in East Peoria, neither the Second nor Third Shift Alternate Safety Committeemen were called to join the investigation. Caterpillar did bring in people from corporate safety as well as the highest managers in the facility, but not the Safety Committeemen who represented the fallen worker—why?


When OSHA was called in to investigate the “accident”, why did it take the threat of a federal warrant to have the elected safety representative for Local 974, participate in the OSHA investigation? Why was the wreckage of the bridge hoist removed so quickly from the accident scene? The only thing left to do after an “accident” like that is to prevent a similar recurrence by performing a thorough investigation.


Even though I disagree with how Caterpillar went about their investigation, I do give TTTBU management thanks for having all of the East Peoria cranes and hoists inspected before returning them to use, a truly extraordinary action, but it was only taken after the fact. Why is the course of action only clear after there is chalk on the floor?


Caterpillar has had its way in health and safety for years now and they have the record to show for it. Two Illinois plants have such poor safety records they are on OSHA’s hit list. We have three times the OSHA complaints/investigations as our Green and Yellow brothers and sisters at Deere. Our former CEO was so embarrassed when he discovered our globally competitive safety record, he ordered sweeping changes. I have no doubt he and Mr. Owens are sincere in their wishes for best-in-class safety, but I don’t think CAT can get where they want to go without the union and the workers.


Two of the more recent initiatives to improve safety-related statistics are bribery and threats. Pizza parties and gifts may be offered to work groups who do not have recordable injuries, but the end effect is that peer pressure prevents the reporting of injuries. Since injuries are caused by exposure to hazards, wouldn’t it be better to reward workers fro reporting hazards?  


In many places, CAT has reiterated its intent to discipline their way to a better safety record. We are accountable for following safety rules and Caterpillar is accountable for providing a workplace free of recognized hazards. So if they want accountability—we’re going to be more than happy to give it to them!


Notify your supervisor if there is anything at all that causes you concern when it comes to your health and safety on the job. Ask for your UAW safety representative if you’re not satisfied with the speed or the way your problem was dealt with. If you don’t get representation by the end of the next day, grieve it. If CAT won’t deal with your problem, and the union can’t get it resolved, we’ll use any means necessary to protect the well-being of our members—the gloves are off!


What is it going to take to have a safe and healthy workplace—hopefully no more chalk on the floor!


In Solidarity,

Steve Mitchell

UAW Local 974

Safety Representative