PEORIA, Ill. (AP) -- Named after a children's toy, "jack rocks" are no game
to people involved in the nine-month strike at Caterpillar Inc. The spiky balls
have caused scores of flat tires and several injuries.
Victims blame the striking United Auto Workers, the union blames the
company, and police say they can do little to stop the vandalism.
Caterpillar and the UAW have a history of bitter strikes and occasional
vandalism. But jack rocks are a new twist.
"You cross the picket line, you get jack-rocked every day," Levi Bishop, a
Caterpillar worker who has twice had tires damaged, said Thursday. "Such
tactics don't scare people and keep them from crossing the line. It probably
just makes them want to stay even more."
Named for their resemblance to jacks, jack rocks are made from nails
sharpened at both ends. Then the nails are welded together so a point will
stick up no matter how the jack rock lands.
Area police say they began appearing about a year ago. They are so common
now that Peoria police issued a "public safety advisory" warning people to
watch for them.
No one keeps a tally of reports, but police at several area departments
together recalled roughly 200 cases of jack rocks being found or damaging tires.
"It's not just people involved with the Cat dispute who are suffering," said
Capt. Joe Needham of the Peoria County Sheriff's Office.
Most are placed in driveways and factory entrances where Caterpillar
managers and workers who crossed the picket line are likely to hit them. But
some have ended up in roads and yards, making anyone a potential victim.
A school bus and even police cars have hit jack rocks. A Peoria park
employee and a newspaper carrier have stepped on them.
Police say that without an informant to tip them off, they stand little
chance of catching someone in the act of planting jack rocks.
"It's just like finding a four-leaf clover," said Tazewell County Sheriff
Ralph Hodgson. "You hear from each side that the other side is doing it, and we
can't prove who is doing it."
A striking union member arrested in January for carrying explosives also had
jack rocks in his truck, police say.
Union officials, however, insist their members aren't to blame. They say
Caterpillar's security firm plants jack rocks to turn workers against one
"We don't condone that kind of activity," said Jerry Brown, president of the
Peoria-area Local 974. "To my knowledge, we never saw jack rocks around here
until Cat brought in these professional provocateurs."
Caterpillar spokesman Keith Butterfield called that "a ludicrous
proposition." Noting the strike has largely been peaceful, Butterfield blames a
few hotheads for the jack rocks.