There's no love lost between workers at Caterpillar plants and CEO Donald Fites in the wake of last year's failed strike. So it came as no surprise when a confrontation erupted this spring between Caterpillar management and workers wearing "Permanently Replace Fites" T-shirts and buttons.
According to Labor Notes, hundreds of employees were suspended--and some even arrested--for wearing the anti-Fites slogans, distributing literature, or demonstrating on company property as part of an ongoing campaign for a contract. But on April 29, company management backed down and promised no further disciplinary action after receiving notice from the National Labor Relations Board that the Cat attire policy would be subject to a hearing.
Meanwhile, the ending in April of the three-year strike by Greyhound workers was seen as less than a victory by most union observers. Amalgamated Transit Union President James La Sala called it "one of the worst of strikes," said it was "heart-wrenching" for the labor movement, and "most traumatic and personally disastrous" for the members.
At the signing of the new six-year contract, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said the 1980s saw "too much bitterness in labor-management relations." La Sala decried the employer attitudes that fostered the air traffic controllers strike and strikes at Pittston coal company, Eastern airlines, and Greyhound, and called for passage of pending legislation to outlaw the use of permanent striker replacements.
Carolyn Kazdin, legislative director at the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, said that's not enough. "We need to pass strike-breaker legislation," Kazdin told Sojourners, "but we also need comprehensive labor law reform so that workers can again exercise their democratic rights to freely associate without fear of reprisal."