July 18, 2008

Caterpillar Says No Decisions Have Been Made on Jobs As Decatur Plant Realigns to Build Mining Trucks

By Tony Reid, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

Jul. 18--DECATUR -- Big shop floor meetings at Decatur's Caterpillar Inc. plant this week have got the rumor mill running as fast as a mining truck production line.

But Caterpillar said rumors of a net loss of more than 1,000 jobs at Decatur within a year remain just that, rumors. The sprawling Decatur plant employs about 5,000 workers in all departments.

The company insisted Thursday that no decisions have been made yet on a planned realignment of job numbers at Decatur. It said the meetings with members of United Auto Workers Local 751 were informational only and contained no announcements of job moves.

The union had requested the meetings under the provisions of its labor contract. Local 751 had no comment on the meetings when contacted Thursday afternoon.

News that Caterpillar is planning major changes in Decatur is nothing new. On June 12, the Peoria-based company announced a $1 billion investment that included expanding its Decatur production facility and devoting it to the building of giant mining trucks, which enjoy booming worldwide sales.

Caterpillar said it would shift motor grader production out of Decatur to allow for the expansion in truck production. Adding up the number of workers involved in motor grader work, plus some other production and white collar jobs being reconfigured, comes to more than 1,000. Caterpillar says people are assuming all those jobs will vanish without being replaced.

"But what we don't know yet is what the net impact will be for people," said Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan. "We are expanding the mining truck operations in Decatur, and we don't know how many jobs might be added related to that expansion. The same person with a job related to motor graders may have a job related to building mining trucks instead."

Dugan said firm decisions will be made and their effects will become clear over the next 18 months, and Decatur should feel confident about the future. "We think our investment is a very positive sign of our desire to keep the Decatur facility competitive and operating in the long-run," he added.

Craig Coil, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, said regular meetings were held with Caterpillar, and the company knew the Decatur community "stood ready to do everything we can to help them."

Coil wanted to see motor graders stay but says the expansion of mining truck production was cause for optimism. "Global demand for the product is huge," he added. "And Caterpillar really believes it can double production and sales."

Tony Reid can be reached at [email protected] or 421-7977.


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