Deere strike over as UAW members approve new contract

Picketing Deere workers. [photo courtesy WVIK]

More than 10,000 workers at John Deere will end a five-week strike and return to work after voting nearly two-to-one in favor of an offer very similar to one they rejected at the start of this month.

CNN reported the United Auto Workers union announced Wednesday that 61% of members at Deere voted in favor of what the company had described as its last and best offer.

Both offers, the one that was rejected in a November 2 vote and the one accepted Wednesday, contain substantial gains for the union members. Both included a 10% immediate raise, an $8,500 signing bonus, additional 5% raises in the third and fifth year of the proposed six-year deal, and additional lump sum payments equal to 3% of pay in years two, four and six. In addition it restored a cost-of-living adjustment to protect workers from increases in consumer prices. Such clauses used to be common in union contracts but have become relatively rare in recent years.

The union said the offer that is the subject of this week’s vote had “modest modifications” from that previous, rejected tentative agreement.

The company will notify the strikers when they are expected to return to work. The vote and the deal were praised by leadership at both the UAW and Deere.

“I’m pleased our highly skilled employees are back to work,” said CEO John May. “John Deere’s success depends on the success of our people. Through our new collective bargaining agreements, we’re giving employees the opportunity to earn wages and benefits that are the best in our industries and are groundbreaking in many ways.”

“Our members courageous willingness to strike in order to attain a better standard of living and a more secure retirement resulted in a groundbreaking contract and sets a new standard for workers not only within the UAW but throughout the country,” said UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, head of the unit of the union that deals with Deere.

But despite the improved pay and benefits, many union members apparently voted no in all three votes. They believed that Deere, which has been reporting record profits in recent quarters amid strong demand for its farming and construction equipment, could afford to give more, especially after previous contracts in which workers had given the company various concessions.

The union had reached an initial tentative agreement with the company on October 1, but 90% of rank-and-file members voted that deal down in a vote completed on October 10. That vote led to the start of the strike four days later. The following vote that concluded on Nov. 2 had more support, but still failed with only 45% voting in favor a deal that would have sent them back to work two weeks ago.

After the Nov. 2 vote by the union rejecting the second tentative agreement, the company said it could not improve on the economic terms for another one. Marc Howze, Deere’s chief administrative officer in an interview with CNN Business, said the company would consider all options to serve its customers, including the possibility of importing products from overseas plants or hiring replacement workers.

But importing products creates other issues given current US supply chain problems. And there is a near record number of job openings, leaving employers scrambling to fill most jobs, let alone jobs that would require a worker to cross a picket line to report to work.

The dynamics of the current labor market have emboldened unions and their members to flex their muscles, with a significant portion of rank and file demanding even more than the union bargainers agreed to.

Earlier this week members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), workers who perform a wide range of non-acting and non-directing jobs for feature films, television shows and streaming programs, voted only 50.3% in favor of deals reached by their union, narrowly averting a strike by 63,000 workers that would have been the nation’s largest private sector work stoppage since 2007. There are 1,400 workers at cereal maker Kellogg who have been on strike more than 6 weeks, and nearly 1,000 Alabama coal miners who have been on strike against Warrior Met Coal since April 1.