A Publication of WTVP

Anthony (Tony) Green is a busy man these days, working as a representative (and managing the office) for the Mutual of Omaha Companies in Peoria, as well as serving as a labor conciliator for the Illinois Department of Labor Conciliation and Mediation Division – both positions with full-time job demands. Most people know Tony Green, however, for his accomplishments as United Auto Workers Local 974 president from 1984 until 1990. During his administration, the UAW successfully negotiated two consecutive three-year labor contracts with Caterpillar, Inc., without a strike – something unprecedented in recent history.

Green ran on the same ticket with current UAW Local 974 boss Jerry Brown (along with Wayne Schmidt and Mike Lippert) when he won the presidency in 1984 and 1987. However, after a split in the party in the 1990 elections, Brown defeated Tony for the presidency of the local union.

In July 1991, Green joined the local office of Mutual of Omaha. In April 1993, the state of Illinois asked him to work in the department of Employee Security with Lolita Didrickson, now running for state comptroller. Later, he began working for the Illinois Department of Labor in the area of prevailing wage mediation and conciliation.

Inter-Business Issues editor David Wright interviewed Mr. Green on August 16, 1994, to get his perspective on the current Caterpillar/UAW labor conflict and strike.

What has changed in UAW Local 974 since your days as local president?

The leadership has changed. I’m not saying that I was far and away the best leader Local 974 ever had, because they did have some good presidents, but the attitude on the local level has changed.

Although I left the union, I was watching with interest to see what would transpire in the first labor negotiations under the new administration. I wanted to see if it would revert back to the more adversarial style negotiations which took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s as I warned the membership. I could not figure out Mr. Brown’s logic when, long before negotiations began, he started warning everyone – the community and the union membership – about the probability of a labor strike. The members are always prepared for such a dispute because of the past history; aside from the 1986 and 1988 negotiations there was some type of strike with just about every contract. When I was president of Local 974, I always tried to talk up a good working relationship. And I always tried to make the union look like the good guys. I did not want Caterpillar to have any advantage – to be able to go to the media and say, “Hey, look. We’ve got this strike-happy guy running around” – something that would make the union automatically look like the bad guy. I state that we wanted a good working relationship and that we didn’t want a strike, although at no time did I tell Caterpillar that we would not strike. The union is a business, and you have to run it like a business.

When I was president, the current administration was constantly ridiculing me for talking to too much of the media, saying that the media shouldn’t be involved in our negotiations. I must have heard that over 200 times during the 1986 and 1988 negotiations. But I have never seen the UAW try to use the media to the extent that they do now – and they do a very poor job of it. Caterpillar, I think, does a very good job of it at times.

Now the UAW is trying to take its case to the public. Before, when I tried to take our case to the public, they didn’t like that. Maybe they’re saying now, “Gee, he was right.” (I’m sure they’re not going to give me credit.) I just don’t think they know how to make their case, though.

I just don’t’ think the leadership is there. When I was president, and Mr. Brown was chairman of the bargaining committee, I don’t’ want to say he didn’t have the mental aptitude to make a decision, but he was afraid to make a decision. As chairman of the bargaining committee he had a very powerful position, but he would always run to Wayne Schmidt for advice. Many times he would call recesses in the middle of negotiations, at the central bargaining committee level, because he would have to run upstairs and ask Wayne what to do. It was embarrassing, for one thing, because the other locals knew what was going on; that hurt us on the central bargaining committee level.

It’s very easy for me to criticize. I was very fortunate during the time I was president. We were able to settle two contracts without a strike. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time, but I do think that I did some things that helped.

The major played involved in the current labor standoff haven’t changed that much. What is the difference? Why can’t they get together now?

The people are pretty much the same. I know that technology has changes a lot of the rules in the shop and it has eliminated some jobs. We also faced that in the 1980s, and we prepared for that, even though we didn’t know what the magnitude of it would be.

During my tenure I went through three Caterpillar chairmen and CEOs, the last being Don Fites. A lot of people criticize Don Fites. Say what you may, but the thing I liked about Don Fites was, if he told you something, that was it. He didn’t lie to you or try to mislead you. He would say, “Hey, this is the way if has to be – but if you can give me some additional information, I’m not going to have a completely closed mind.” I don’t envy Don Fites at all; he’s in a bad position.

Jerry Brust is very knowledgeable – a very shrewd and skilled negotiator. Like me, he has an ego. At the position he is in, and the position I was in, you have to have an ego. If you don’t you’ll get run over.

During negotiations I always emphasized that, regardless of what happened at the bargaining table yesterday, you can’t harbor ill feelings and bring it to the table the next day. I would get in Gene Broadbear’s face a lot of times and Gene would get in mine (Gene has since retired); Gary Brummerstedt and I would get into it. But at the end of the night there were a couple of times when Gary and I went to the tavern together. Some of the current members of the bargaining committee would harbor angry feelings for weeks. I always tried to keep those kinds of people out of the bargaining; I tried to bring in the most level-headed, sensible people that we could find.

In the current situation, there have to be bitter feelings built up on both sides. I still say that, on a local level and in most areas, UAW leadership is weak. I’ve known these guys for years.

How much control do the local unions have in contract negotiations as opposed to control from Detroit?

All. Bill Casstevens gets maligned a lot by many people, and so does the UAW International. However, the bottom line is that the central bargaining committee controls what goes on in negotiations. Politically its real easy for Jerry Brown to use Bill Casstevents and the UAW International as a scapegoat. Bill Casstevens can make suggestions and can do some behind-closed-doors negotiating, but the central bargaining committee has to vote to okay his suggestions.

I don’t know what the current numbers are, but it used to be that Local 974 had so many members that they overwhelmed the other locals; so is Local 974 wanted something, they shoved it in some of the other local unions’ faces. The local unions, and particularly Local 974, have a tremendous influence over what goes on.

I really feel that the UAW, particularly on a local level, is trying to save face. They also feel that is Caterpillar is able to dominate negotiations to the point (in my opinion) that they have so far, the that’s a setback for the UAW and for all unions. I will agree (and it’s about the only think on which I agree with Jerry Brown) that if they lose, all unions lose.

I feel sorry for the membership because they haven’t been told the whole truth. Some people will say I don’t know what the facts are, since I’m not involved in negotiations, but I know this leadership, and it’s a sad situation.

What is the significance of the UAW tripling strike pay for striking Cat workers?

It has tremendous significance. It is unprecedented. I’m sure it caught Caterpillar somewhat by surprise – I don’t want to say total surprised, because I don’t think anything catches them by total surprise anymore. What it shows is – and I think Owen Bieber has made this statement – the UAW is in for the long haul. Three hundred dollars a week isn’t much when you consider that the average Caterpillar worker makes between $700-$800 per week, but it’s enough to live on. Why did the UAW increase the strike pay? Possibly to try and bring some of its members who have crossed picket lines back out, but primarily to keep any more from crossing, especially following Caterpillar vacation. I think the tripling of strike pay is one of the smartest things the UAW has done.

What is your assessment of Cat production during the current strike? UAW leaders say product is not being shipped to any significant degree. Cat says they are meeting all customers’ needs. Can Cat continue to be profitable, make production, etc., indefinitely, without a signed contract?

I’ll tell you what I know and what I hear. I’m a member at River City Athletics Club along with quite a few UAW members. Many of them I have talked with who have crossed the picket lines are saying that they are putting the engines out, that they are putting the tractors our, and that the quality is good. I don’t think they are purring as many tractors our as they were prior to strike, although I could be wrong on that.

As long as Caterpillar is able to bring its workforce out of the office to coincide with the 25 percent of the work force that is used to working in the shop, they can produce. Stop and think about it; you now have engineers that helped design the machinery working on it. You have draftsmen our there that know the products. I don’t know how long Caterpillar can afford to keep these people on the line instead of devoting all their time to their regular jobs, but I do know that some of these people are working a lot of hours to do it. I’ve talked to some of these people who are working eight hours in the shop and then working three or four hours in the office, and they say they are more than happy to do it because they want to keep the company going. They also don’t mind the extra dollars in their paychecks!

How long can Caterpillar keep it up? Well, they’ve been doing it for about nine weeks so far.

One of the options Caterpillar has in the current strike is to outsource more products. One of the fears many people have is that some of this work, once it is gone, will never return. What are your thoughts?

If I’m a businessperson and, because of a strike or anything else, I find out that am able to pay somebody $6 an hour to make something when I was paying someone $18 an house, am I going to do it? You’re damn right I’m going to do it!

When I was at the helm of the UAW, I was constantly hollering about the quality of the product. And, on some of the jobs that Caterpillar did outsource, they had to bring the work back in house because the quality was poor. Any time you outsource, you always have the potential for loss of quality control. But I think the company learned a lesson in 1982 and 1983; they did run some junk on some assembly lines. But the customers out there now that are getting some of these engines and tractors aren’t complaining; they’re saying, “Hey, these engines are great! These are good tractors.”

How do you view Caterpillar’s long-term strategy regarding the Peoria area? Company officials have stated on numerous occasions that Caterpillar is committed to staying in Peoria at the approximate level (percentage of company workers) it has always had. Still, there are many people who insist that Caterpillar has a strategy to leave Peoria over the next few years. How do you feel about that?

When I took the helm of the UAW in 1983, people were saying the same thing. Here it is, ten years later. Sure, some of the work has gone south. Some of the work has been outsourced. But Caterpillar is still here. I think that as long as there is some kind of labor strife between Caterpillar and the UAW, you are always going to hear that.

Where will Caterpillar be ten years from now; I don’t know. I hope they are still here. I personally believe they will still be here. I think what Caterpillar is trying to do – because they have invested so much money in the plants in this area – is to try and get the best contract they can. If Caterpillar continues to have problems, they could say, “Hey, we don’t want to go through another two or three sets of contract negotiations like this one.” I hope that something good will come out of this; maybe some people will learn some lessons on both sides. If things improve a little bit, I think Caterpillar will be here for a long time to come.

People talk a lot about Caterpillars’ commitment to the community. The community better realize that we also have a commitment to Caterpillar – even though we don’t depend on Caterpillar as much as we used to.

If Caterpillar didn’t have a commitment to the community, they would have started moving a lot of operations our of Peoria; they wouldn’t have spent billions of dollars for their “Plant With a Future” and so forth.

The UAW claims that the current strike is an unfair labor practices strike. How valid is this contention that the current strike is ULP rather than economic in nature?

I do know that there have been some Caterpillar workers terminated when they could have just received some time off, but I also understand why it was done. I can understand the UAW’s contention that some of the unfair labor practice charges may need to be settled prior to negotiations, but I can’t imagine nearly a hundred charges.

For the union to continue to say that they aren’t going to move until they get 95 unfair labor practice charges settle, while Caterpillar is continuing to build products and continuing to remain profitable, is not a smart strategy.

Caterpillar is continuing to eliminate jobs because of this strike. They are finding ways to perform jobs with two or three guys, when it used to take five. When the UAW doesn’t want to come back, Caterpillar is going to say, “Wait a minute. We don’t need all of you back. We’ve eliminated 20 percent of the jobs because we have found more efficient ways to produce.” The local UAW leadership can call this scare tactics or whatever they want to call it; the bottom line id that Caterpillar is going to find ways to produce effectively.

If I were in leadership, I would probably pick out ten percent of the ULP charges that I felt I really had to have, and present them to Caterpillar and say, “Look, let’s get these settled.” Then I would go into bargaining. The longer this thing drags our, and the longer Caterpillar continues to build tractors and engines, Cat’s going to dig its heels in further. If Caterpillar managers can prove to themselves – and I’m sure they had some doubts – that they can do this on e day-in and day-out basis, they will do it.

I have three friends who just hired in at Cat – two as assembly line workers and one at the Mapleton foundry. They’re happy as hell to have those jobs; they’re making between $18-$20 an house, and they are doing the job. My receptionist’s son was making $7 an hour and in now working at Caterpillar for $18-20 ah hour! If Caterpillar can continue to hire people to do the work, that just gives them all the more power.

Where do you think the average UAW worker stands in the current contract dispute?

I can tell you what I’m being told. I know a UAW member with 22 years in, who I have always considered very level-headed. He wants to cross, but he tells me, “Tony, as a former union president, you know that’s something you just don’t do.” I told him, “Well I’ll keep my opinion to myself because I no longer work there.”

I think the average guy is out there a little confused – upset with both the UAW and Caterpillar. I’m being told that many UAW workers think the whole dispute has developed into a big personality conflict. Members of the bargaining committee have even told me that is it a personality conflict – that local leadership is trying to flex its muscle since it has a lot to lose politically. I do want to say this: aside from a few level-headed people who have the best interest of their members at hear (and I’m not talking about the top four UAW 974 leaders), UAW Local 974 is the most political whorehouse that you will find anywhere in the United States. I can’t even find words to describe it.

The current leadership will do anything – anything – to get re-elected. If they go back now and accept some things they told the membership they would never accept, when the next election comes up, they will be gone. And some of those guys haven’ been out in the shop in 20 years; they don’t want to face that music.

Caterpillar, as well as some union members, claim that union leaders have encouraged, if not directly then indirectly, intimidation and violence in the labor dispute. From your experience in the UAW, do you believe this to be the case?

I have always believed it, and I always will – on a local level. We were given orders back in 1982-83 that if anyone tried to cross the picket line, to make sure we made a note of it and that individual would be dealt with. And, at that time, there weren’t union people crossing the picket line; they were company personnel. We were never given any instructions to beat people or anything like that, but I know there were threatening phone calls made, car tired flattened, and things like that.

I personally know one UAW woman who crossed the picket line who has had obscenities shouted at her; her home had paint thrown on it; her car tires were slashed; she’s received threatening phone calls. She didn’t cross the picket lines the first time, but this time she said she was just fed up.

How long do you think this strike will continue? Do you see any indications of a return to the bargaining table this year?

This October will be three years. If Caterpillar is really putting that product our (and I’m being told they are), and if that product is good, and if Caterpillar can continue to meet the demand with the current work force, I don’t know how much longer the UAW can stay out. They are saying they can stay out forever. I can’t really see the strike ending before December…then again, they could meet tomorrow.

Some people wonder why local union members don’t’ rise up and throw the UAW out via a decertification vote. How difficult would such a move be? Is it realistic?

It would be very difficult and would not be realistic in a local union the size of UAW 974. When I was at the Mossville complex, we were thinking about having our own union instead of being a part of Local 974. We talked about decertifying from the UAW International. It’s damn near impossible because the International Union has the final vote. In order for the members to revolt, you have to have something like two-third of your members vote for it and then have 70 percent of those two-thirds show up at a meeting to decertify. There are a lot of things involved, and the numbers are set so high that it is almost impossible.

Do you have any final comments on the labor dispute?

If they entire UAW membership were able to read this interview, I would like to echo the old saying, “What ye sow, so ye shall reap.” It sounds very egotistical for me to say this, but I warned the membership that if they put the current leadership of the late 1970s and early 1980s. That is exactly what happened.

I would tell UAW members to do whatever the think is best in the current confrontation – to do what they have to do. But they better remember this: leaders come and go, but jobs don’t. IBI