In the face of declining or stalled demand, companies have been trimming costs and rethinking their distribution networks. But more quietly, an undercurrent of corporate plant relocations may be aiming to escape union contracts and higher-priced labor.

Indeed, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) has announced four domestic new facilities and expansions in just two weeks. All this activity stands to add more than 1,300 jobs to the company.

It may not be surprising that the new non-union Victoria, Texas plant will handle excavator production that'll be halted over time in Aurora, Illinois, where the United Auto Workers (UAW) still holds sway. Nevertheless, the Aurora plant will remain open, although it'll be shifted to other products. Ditto the Japan plant, which will now be free to focus on turning out high-demand products in its booming geographic region.

Texas is sweetening Caterpillar's pot by donating 320 acres, $3 billion in cash, and favorable tax treatment. While U.S. manufacturing is slowly creeping back, you may notice a trend in Caterpillar's moves: Other than the South Dakota facility, it's moving toward the South, where union representation is far less prevalent.

Caterpillar is hardly alone, Boeing (NYSE: BA) scuffled with the International Association of Machinists before deciding to build a non-union plant in Charleston, S.C. At about the same time, heavy-duty truck makers Paccar (Nasdaq: PCAR) and Navistar International (NYSE: NAV) shuttered or trimmed production at union plants in Ontario and Tennessee in favor of non-union facilities in Mexico and Mississippi, respectively.

Clearly, overly demanding labor can hinder a variety of companies. The UAW's excessive strongarming notoriously plagued Detroit's former Big 3, before the government intervention and bankruptcy of Chrysler and General Motors, or near-bankruptcy in Ford's (NYSE: F) case, helped get costs closer in line to those of foreign rivals like Toyota (NYSE: TM).

Caterpillar turned in one awfully strong quarter not long ago. I'd suggest that Fools not lose sight of the recovery brewing at this solid company.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does urge you to send along your comments or questions. Ford Motor and PACCAR are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.