PEORIA, Ill. — SOME Caterpillar Inc. workers facing a back-to-work ultimatum have trickled back to their jobs, filing past picketing United Auto Workers union members who refused the company's order to end their five-month strike.
Caterpillar, the nation's largest manufacturer of heavy equipment, said more than 300 of the 12,600 strikers left the picket lines yesterday.
"My wife made me do it...," said a sign on a pickup truck driven by one man crossing the picket line in East Peoria.
Last week Caterpillar Group President Gerald Flaherty told the UAW members to end their strike and report to work April 7 or face losing their jobs. During a news conference, Caterpillar officials said "in excess of 300" workers did cross picket lines. They declined to say how many at which plants.
Some who obeyed the back-to-work order cited economic reasons. Many who stayed with the pickets said they were torn between allegiance to their families and the union.
Caterpillar hoped the callback would end the strike that began Nov. 3, but the UAW said the company wants to bust the union. Labor experts said the callback is a test of the UAW's strength in Illinois. Some viewed it as a larger test.
"This is the last pitched battle" for the union to survive, said one union member.
"This is a national example, and we're the guinea pigs," said Wayne Wilson, a 24-year veteran of the East Peoria assembly line.
Caterpillar Vice President Wayne Zimmerman said production was continuing with management employees, who would work alongside returning UAW members.