Monday, January 7, 2013

Caterpillar Agrees with HB1673? See who wins?

“The larger story is that an extraordinarily profitable company like Caterpillar has determined that a fair standard of living for a semi-skilled manufacturing employee is $24,000 a year.  Let’s face it: every time workers lose a fight like this, American business gets a clear message that you can ratchet down the wages a little further” – Linda Kaboolian, Harvard Public Policy lecturer. 

“One of the most ironic things about capitalism is that the capitalist will sell you the rope to hang himself with. Actually they will give you the money to make them look bad, if they believe they can make money off it.” – Michael Moore, Film Producer

Delusional (or listening to a Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar).

Nominal Adjective: In psychiatry, a fixed or truth-resistant false belief that ignores confrontations with reason or facts; delusions of grandeur, or a state of mind that allows for action based upon extreme hedonism or self-fanaticism.  Often confused with elusive, illusive, hallucination. In psychiatry, delusions are considered part of a pathological state. 

Quick to pounce on good news, at least for CEO Doug Oberhelman, the quintessential tax-loophole opportunist welcomed the latest passage out of committee of the Nekritz/Biss proposed HB 1673 this afternoon.  CEO Doug called the draconian proposal without union voice “a step…critical for Illinois’ long-tern fiscal health.” Also, the CEO described the move as one that will “position Illinois to move toward fiscal responsibility.”  Delusional is the perfect word to describe a company and leader who has sought every method possible to avoid any responsibility beyond trying to make a profit at the expense of the State of Illinois and its citizen families.  This will be the first in a series of three reminders of what Caterpillar is truly all about.

In the last few years, Douglas Oberhelman, the CEO of Caterpillar, has made it his company’s mission to excoriate the terrible business climate in Illinois while extolling the virtues of Big Cat’s business model and resulting benefits program to workers and Illinois citizens.  Recently, Mr. Oberhelman and his company have decided to open a new facility in Athens, Georgia, after making it clear that Illinois would not be considered on any list, short or long due to its Moving in the wrong direction.  As with most delusional arguments, much bombastic rationale is provided for a strategic decision; however, the facts and history left unsaid often tell a remarkable and different story.

In his three-paragraph letter to Governor Quinn in March of 2011, CEO Oberhelman warned that “the direction this state is headed is not favorable to business and I’d like to help change that.” The letter, which was leaked to the press, indicated an attempt by neighboring states to lure Caterpillar away, and the billet-doux of others prompted an immediate meeting with Governor Quinn.  Promises by Governor Quinn to reform workman’s compensation as well as investigate more export routes to Latin America and Africa prompted Oberhelman to suggest, “I think Caterpillar is here to stay”(Colman, Zachary. Caterpillar will stay in Illinois…  Huffington Post. 5 April 2011).  

Mr. Oberhelman wields influence, in this case, like a pageant beauty seeking the best date at the prom.  But reforming workman’s compensation remains only one small corsage the company would like to wear.

While placing the blame on Illinois, Mr. Oberhelman’s Caterpillar wants to exploit cheap labor in abundant quantities, to take advantage of taxpayers hungry for work during the Great Recession, to break unions and collective bargaining, to avoid paying taxes by using whatever accounting means available, to ignore or destroy Congressional oversight through lobbying and ignore any feeling of social responsibility. 

While the image of willingness to accept any state suitors for a price is unbecoming, one must admit that Caterpillar is at least selective – that is, when it comes to right-to work-states.  Once Governor Daniels signed Indiana’s bill as a right-to-work state, Caterpillar began moving its London, Ontario, factory operation to Muncie, Indiana to create 450 new jobs.  On the way there, Caterpillar was sure to remind Illinois coyly, “Please understand that even if your community had the right logistics for this project, Caterpillar’s previously documented concerns about the business climate and overall fiscal health of the state of Illinois still would have made it unpractical for us to select your community for this project” (

And if Illinois felt jilted?  Imagine the pain in London, Ontario, where officials at the Canadian Caterpillar plant, which the company bought two years before locking out its employees, believe that Caterpillar opened the additional plant in Muncie just to force a capitulation on salaries and 465 additional jobs.  Moreover, now that Muncie is one of many cities in Indiana that have become non-union as a result of the right-to-work status, they will “reportedly earn less than half of their Canadian counterparts - $24,000 per year, wages that hover around the poverty line” (

To say that Indiana is “hard-up,” is understatement.  When it comes to a possible paramour like Caterpillar, anything is acceptable as the official unemployment rate in Muncie hovers at 10 percent and the unofficial at nearly 20 percent.  With 10,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last 15 years, even low wages and slim benefits are attractive (

Indeed, Caterpillar has lately discovered a methodology to make its newest courtiers all the more attractive – having those states pick up the expense in training and readying the work force for the special skills and abilities necessary to operate the machinery in newly opening plants.  In North Carolina, for example, another event for which Illinois didn’t make the list (according to Mr. Oberhelman), the state – that is, its taxpayers – are picking up the tab for training the workers in its potential manufacturing facility.  This is not to say that North Carolina is promised the facility, but to remain in the running a state has to agree to dance the dance Caterpillar will demand.  Caterpillar itself values the training at about $4.3 million (  Meanwhile, North Carolina has offered an additional package of $51 million in training support as incentive to come hither to Winston-Salem (Rich, Mokoto.  Private sector gets job skills; public gets bill. New York Times. 7 January 2012). 

Hope they get a kiss.

Don't let characters like Oberhelman continue the evaporation of middle-class ideals.  Call 888-412-6750.  Say NO to HB1673!

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