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updated 2/11/2009 11:58:29 AM ET 2009-02-11T16:58:29

Caterpillar Inc. said Wednesday it was offering voluntary early retirement packages to about 2,000 production workers as it expects lower demand for heavy equipment amid the global economic slowdown.

On the same day, President Barack Obama said Caterpillar's chief executive has told him the company will rehire some laid-off workers if the stimulus bill passes.

The heavy equipment maker announced more than 22,000 job cuts last month as it scales back production amid the economic slowdown.

During a visit to a transportation construction site just outside Washington in Springfield, Va., on Wednesday, Obama urged Congress to pass the bill.

The House and Senate are working out differences between competing versions of the legislation.

The maker of mining and construction machinery said Wednesday the package is being offered to workers in Illinois, Colorado, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Caterpillar said eligibility for the early retirement program is based on age and years of service.

"Our intent is to provide eligible employees the opportunity to retire early as we expect significant declines in all geographic regions," said Sid Banwart, vice president of human services at the Peoria, Illinois-based company.

Job cuts are spreading across the U.S. economy as companies scramble to reduce costs in the face of the worst economic downturn in decades. Just this week ailing Detroit automaker General Motors Corp said it would cut its salaried global work force by 10,000, while package-delivery company FedEx Corp unveiled 900 layoffs and industrial distributor W.W. Grainger Inc disclosed plans to cut up to 400 positions.

Caterpillar has been slashing jobs at a pace not seen since the mid-1980s, when the U.S. manufacturer was losing $1 million a day and fighting to keep its doors open.

Last month the company reported a 32 percent fall in fourth-quarter profit and warned this year's earnings could fall by more than more than half due to the worldwide recession.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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