Over 10,000 UAW members at John Deere now on strike

[courtesy NBC News]

UAW John Deere members went on strike at midnight Thursday for the first time in 35 years, after the union said Deere failed to present an agreement that met their members’ demands.

Workers voted Sunday night to reject the company’s latest contract offer. The union said 90 percent of members voted against the six-year offer which was for more than 10,000 workers at 14 Deere factories, including those in Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, Ottumwa, and Waterloo.

“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” said Chuck Browning, Vice President and director of the UAW’s Agricultural Implement Department. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”

“John Deere is committed to a favorable outcome for our employees, our communities, and everyone involved,” said Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere & Company.

“We are determined to reach an agreement with the UAW that would put every employee in a better economic position and continue to make them the highest paid employees in the agriculture and construction industries,” Morris said. “We will keep working day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike, while also keeping our operations running for the benefit of all those we serve.”

“The almost one million UAW retirees and active members stand in solidarity with the striking UAW members at John Deere,” said UAW President Ray Curry.

“UAW John Deere members have worked through the pandemic after the company deemed them essential, to produce the equipment that feeds America, builds America and powers the American economy,” Curry said. “These essential UAW workers are showing us all that through the power of a strong united union voice on the picket line they can make a difference for working families here and throughout the country.”

The last time UAW members at John Deere went on strike was in 1986, a work stoppage that lasted 163 days.

”Pickets have been set up and our members are organized and ready to hold out and fight for a contract they believe meets their needs,” said Ron McInroy, director of UAW Region 4. “Our members and their families appreciate the community support they have already gotten. Strikes are not easy, but some things are worth fighting for.”

“These are skilled, tedious jobs that UAW members take pride in every day,” said Mitchell Smith, UAW Region 8 director. “Strikes are never easy on workers or their families but John Deere workers believe they deserve a better share of the pie, a safer workplace, and adequate benefits.”

Iowa Public Radio reports that economists say the union is in a good position during negotiations.

Iowa State University economist Peter Orazem says John Deere’s stock price has doubled in the last two years, but factories are struggling to fill jobs. He says that gives the union leverage to demand more.

“The company itself is doing quite well and is in a position to expand and that’s a very good time for labor to press for wage increases, and that hasn’t been true for many years,” Orazem says. Orazem says if workers do strike he expects it to be short since John Deere has an interest in capitalizing on the current strong demand for farming and construction equipment.

At the University of Iowa Labor Center, Paul Iverson the Deere dispute ties into the trend of people reexamining work relationships during the pandemic. “You know there’re companies, Deere included, that are having record profits and I think that a lot of workers are saying that we deserve a share of that,” Iverson says.