STRIKING workers at Caterpillar Inc. have ended their bitter five-month walkout and will return to their jobs while a new contract is negotiated, said the federal mediator, Bernard DeLury, on Tuesday. In exchange, the heavy equipment manufacturer agreed to stop hiring replacements for the 12,000 striking members of the United Auto Workers union.
Talks on resolving the contract dispute will continue, though strikers will return to work under the terms of a contract Caterpillar imposed last week, Mr. DeLury said. The end to the strike is a partial defeat for the union since the workers will be at their jobs under management terms it previously rejected.
The union has demanded that Caterpillar accept a contract patterned after those the UAW has negotiated with other manufacturers, including farm equipment maker Deere & Co.
The UAW launched the limited strike against Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar, the world's largest manufacturer of earthmoving and construction equipment, on Nov. 4. The walkout gradually expanded to include most of the union's 16,000 Caterpillar employees.
On April 6, Caterpillar raised the stakes by giving strikers a last chance to return or risk losing their jobs forever to replacement workers.
The company has consistently rejected the union's demand that it accept a so-called pattern contract. Caterpillar says it needs concessions not offered in the pattern contract to remain competitive in its global markets.