ST. CHARLES — Caterpillar Inc. shareholders rejected an attempt Wednesday to change the company’s leadership structure as protesters once again took issue with the use of Big Yellow’s bulldozers in Gaza and the West Bank.

By MIKE RAMSEY


GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE


 


ST. CHARLES — Caterpillar Inc. shareholders rejected an attempt Wednesday to change the company’s leadership structure as protesters once again took issue with the use of Big Yellow’s bulldozers in Gaza and the West Bank.


Only 12.5 percent of stock owners supported an outside proposal to sever the Caterpillar board president and CEO roles now held jointly by top executive Jim Owens, according to preliminary vote totals released at the company’s annual shareholders meeting. The plan was introduced by Jewish Voice for Peace representative Sydney Levy, whose organization has targeted Caterpillar’s yearly gatherings since 2004.


The group says the Peoria-based manufacturer is not acting responsibly when it sells bulldozers that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) use to raze Palestinian homes.


“The corporation can’t keep its head in the sand forever,” Levy told an audience of about 100 at the Q Center, a business retreat campus, in far west suburban St. Charles.


Owens advised shareholders against de-coupling the Caterpillar jobs, saying board directors exercise their independence. Addressing the broader controversy, he said the Fortune 100 company does not sell bulldozers directly to Israel, but to the U.S. Defense Department. He said the federal government also makes Cat equipment accessible to Arab nations for construction projects.


“It’s disappointing that our company reputation gets trashed over something we can’t control,” Owens said during a question-and-answer session with shareholders or their substitutes.


The interchange ended a few minutes early when protesters began chanting, “Take responsibility and do the right thing!” and held up Palestinian flags. Owens calmly concluded the meeting, and he and his fellow executives left.


The Caterpillar critics staged a demonstration outside the Q Center, but it appeared smaller than their earlier protests at annual meetings. In previous years, Caterpillar has hosted the meetings in a more central, downtown Chicago location.


Protesters have used the March 2003 death of American activist Rachel Corrie as a rallying symbol. Corrie was trying to help Palestinians when she was run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza.


Confrontation aside, Wednesday’s hourlong gathering was largely routine. Shareholders rejected an outside proposal from a carpenter union pension system to require that Caterpillar board directors be elected by a majority, rather than a “plurality,” of votes. Four board directors — John T. Dillon, Juan Gallardo, William A. Osborn and Edward B. Rust Jr. — were re-elected, according to pre-tabulated voting.


Owens outlined the global company’s expectations to do up to $44 billion in sales and revenue this year and earn stock owners a profit of up to $5.80 per share.


Also Wednesday, Caterpillar announced in a news release that the board voted to again increase the quarterly cash dividend by 6 cents to 36 cents (50.36) per share of common stock, payable Aug. 20.


 


Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or ghns-ramsey@sbcglobal.net.