Workers uneasy prior to contract talks with Caterpillar

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Officials from United Steelworkers say employees at Caterpillar in South Milwaukee are uneasy as talks on a new contract are set to begin. The existing contract ends on April 30th.

Ross Winklbauer represents the local members of United Steelworkers. He says union members are particularly upset because they believe Caterpillar is using Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) to train non-union employees and managers to become welders. They say these people would step in and replace union workers if there was a strike.

Winklbauer wrote MATC board members a letter.

"What's happening now is they are being used a pawn by Caterpillar," said Winklbauer. "I asked in that letter for them to stop and ship that work back and not get caught in the middle."

In response, MATC issued this statement: "MATC does have a contract with Caterpillar for an incumbent worker welding assessment and training activity. Part of MATC's mission is being responsive to the needs of businesses in our district and this contract is an example of that."

Winklbauer's concern is growing because he feels the union's proposal is nothing out of the ordinary. They'll be talking about wages, benefits and working conditions.

A Caterpillar spokesperson says backup training is always done prior to any negotiations. It's something the company has been doing for years.

"We do it in the event of civil and natural disruptions," said Rusty Dunn, a Caterpillar spokesperson. "It does not mean we expect a work stoppage. It's simply being prepared to maintain continuity of products, parts and service in the face of any challenges. That's what responsible companies do."

This is the first time workers will negotiate a contract with Caterpillar -- which was previously Bucyrus International.

April 2nd is the first day of the contract talks which will impact around 800 workers.