Caterpillar union asks MATC not to train company’s employees

The union representing workers at Caterpillar Inc.’s South Milwaukee plant has asked Milwaukee Area Technical College to stop training salaried and management personnel for production jobs.

Caterpillar is preparing for its first negotiations with the United Steelworkers Local 1343 since the South Milwaukee facility became part of the company. It was acquired as part of Caterpillar’s acquisition of Bucyrus International Inc. in 2011.

The training is for contingency workforce planning, which the company has undertaken as a normal part of Caterpillar’s planning cycle prior to any union negotiations, said Rusty Dunn, a company spokesman.

In a letter to members Wednesday, United Steelworkers Local 1343 said Caterpillar is using MATC in an attempt to undermine the union. The company has arranged for the school to train welders to become replacement workers if there is a strike, it said.

Local 1343 sent a letter to the MATC board requesting it to “immediately take action to stop training these scabs.”

MATC released a statement Wednesday in response to the union’s letter, but did not specifically address the union’s request.

“MATC does have a contract with Caterpillar for an incumbent worker welding assessment and training activity,” the technical college’s statement said. “Part of MATC’s mission is being responsive to the needs of businesses in our district and this contract is an example of that.”

Caterpillar, a Peoria, Ill.-based global construction and mining equipment manufacturer, started the contingency training in the early 2000s, Dunn said.

The current contract with the United Steelworkers Union, which represents 800 workers at the South Milwaukee plant, expires at the end of April. Negotiations begin on April 2, the union said.

“Judging from its training of these potential replacement workers and the company’s long history of confronting unions, we already know that these negotiations will be tough,” the USW letter said. “When negotiations begin, we will be ready to address issues raised by the company in good faith and expect Caterpillar to be prepared to address the concerns we bring to the table.”

As of Friday afternoon, a union spokesman said the MATC board had not responded to its letter.

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