JOLIET – A former Caterpillar manufacturing manager said Friday he expects the Joliet plant to close by 2018.
The company’s lease on the Joliet plant expires that year, said Warren Dorris, who worked on previous production moves from the Joliet plant to another Caterpillar factory in Monterrey, Mexico.
Caterpillar on Thursday announced it will decide by March whether to move two lines of production from Joliet to the plant in Monterrey. The move would eliminate 230 of the 770 remaining jobs at the Joliet plant.
“I’m not surprised,” said Dorris, who worked at the Joliet plant and was sent to Monterrey to help move production there in 1989. “I moved a lot of jobs to Monterrey myself. But it’s a sad day for Joliet.”
Dorris said he did not believe enough production would remain in Joliet to justify keeping the local plant open if Caterpillar goes forward with the plan announced Thursday.
“When they close the doors in Joliet, I will probably shed a tear,” Dorris said. “My dad worked there for 33 years. I worked there for 36 years.”
Dorris is a former Joliet city councilman and pastor of the Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ in Joliet.
Caterpillar spokeswoman Barbara Cox, when asked about Dorris’s comments, said, “We don’t have any plans to close the Joliet facility.”
Caterpillar in 2003 sold its Joliet plant and property to Oak Brook-based CenterPoint Properties.
Caterpillar signed a 15-year lease with extension options while reducing its operations to half of the space previously used at the plant.
The Joliet plant opened in 1951. It employed 6,900 workers in the late 1970s. The Rust Belt Recession of the 1980s ushered in an era of declining employment as Caterpillar has moved production to Mexico and elsewhere.
Dorris said that in 1989 Caterpillar was paying workers $25 an hour counting benefits in Joliet, compared to $5 an hour with benefits in Mexico.
“It was strictly a dollar and cents thing,” he said. “It was cheaper in Mexico.”
Caterpillar said the two production lines under review are gear/engine oil pumps and valves.
“... It is becoming clear that the Joliet location is not as competitive for these particular components,” Jean Savage, vice president of the Advanced Components and Systems Division, said in a written statement Thursday.