Caterpillar Head: More Cuts Likely Before Rehire

EAST PEORIA, Ill.  -- Caterpillar Inc. will probably have to lay off more employees before it starts thinking about rehiring some of its recently laid-off workers, chairman and chief executive Jim Owens said Thursday.

Even if a stimulus plan passes immediately, it likely will not have an effect on the economy until late this year or early 2010, Owens said after a town hall meeting with President Barack Obama and Caterpillar workers.

"The reality is we'll probably have to have more layoffs before we can start hiring again," Owens said without elaborating on a timeframe or how many layoffs might be involved.

Owens seemed to back away from Obama's assertion that Owens had promised him he will rehire some of the 20,000 workers recently laid off by the Peoria-based heavy equipment manufacturer if Congress approves a sweeping stimulus bill. The company has struggled with lower demand amid the global economic downturn.

"Adding jobs back with just what's associated with the stimulus plan is a little difficult," Owens said.

When asked to explain the difference between Obama's and Owens' statements, Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan said, "perhaps there's some nuance, if you will."

On Jan. 26, Caterpillar reported a lower-than-expected profit in the fourth quarter and reduced its 2009 outlook. At the time, the company disclosed nearly 20,000 job cuts, most of which had already been made.

Four days later the maker of mining and construction machinery announced new layoffs of 2,100 production workers plus 416 support and management personnel at plants in Aurora, Decatur and East Peoria, Ill.

On Wednesday, Caterpillar said it is offering voluntary early retirement packages to about 2,000 production workers, in Illinois, Colorado, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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