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CAT implements sick leave, child care policies for union production workers amid coronavirus pandemic

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DECATUR — Caterpillar Inc. has announced a special paid leave policy for its union production workers that allows for extra time away from work due to quarantine, illness and child-care issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Company spokeswoman Kate Kenny said the revised policy allows up to two weeks of sick leave for employees to care for themselves or immediate family members affected by the virus and two weeks of paid leave if they have been instructed to self-quarantine. The revised policy also allows for ten weeks of time off, at two-thirds of their salary, to care for their children. 

"We've encouraged our employees to make decisions based on the specifics of their personal situation and health," Kenny said.

The company since the 1950s has operated the plant on 27th Street in Decatur. 

The change comes at the same time the company announced layoffs at its East Peoria KK facility. Kenny told the Peoria Journal-Star the layoffs were the result of a combination of economic and coronavirus concerns.

"A number of governments continue to classify operations such as Caterpillar's as essential activity for critical infrastructure," she said. "While our operations have been classified as essential activity, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on global economic conditions. We are taking a variety of actions at our global facilities to reduce production due to weaker customer demand, potential supply constraints and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and related government actions."

Caterpillar was deemed an essential business as it relates to the executive order issued March 20 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that mandated people to stay at home in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Decatur plant, a leading employer in the community, is tied to the mining industry. A March 22 memo to Decatur employees from Decatur facility manager Tina Czerwinski noted the plants role in obtaining “minerals from the earth” that are used in medicine and x-ray screens as a reason for it being identified as an essential business.

"Our customers and suppliers are depending on us to maintain operations and your work is essential AND appreciated," Czerwinski wrote.

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The latest policy change takes into account the need for additional time away from work as more coronavirus cases are identified and the services the workers have come to depend on to care for their families are being impacted by its spread or efforts to contain it.

In a company memo to workers dated March 27, there are five criteria for the special sick leave for which 80 hours of pay at the employees hourly rate. It also spells out the criteria for the child care option.

The benefits are being made available to all union employees, regardless of the amount of time they have spent with the company. The policy remains in effect no longer than Dec. 31.

For those employees that continue working, Czerwinski noted in her memo steps that are being taken to prevent the spread of the disease, the foremost of which being maintaining social distancing throughout the plant. That has included the discontinuation of start of shift meetings and gatherings of more than 10 people. The memo also outlined enhanced cleaning procedures and making hand sanitizer stations available around the plant, among other things. In addition, management and support staff are working remotely when possible.

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