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10,000 UAW Members Strike at John Deere

Days after rejecting a deal, the largest strike of 2021 has started

Brian Young's picture
Oct 14, 2021

10,000 UAW members at John Deere have walked out on strike in the largest job action in two years. The strike comes just days after 90% of the membership rejected the company’s final contract offer.

“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” Chuck Browning, the director of the union’s agricultural department, said in a statement. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”

Following the rejection of the contract, the union gave the company two days to come back to the table but it was not enough time for the two sides to work out the differences. While union negotiators said that the rejected contract provided “significant economic gains” and “the highest quality health care benefits in the industry,” workers felt that any gains were not enough. They also want a deal that will preserve pensions for new employees and a revamp of the incentive program that they call overly stingy. Under the rejected deal, pension benefits would have increased, but the increase would have been substantially less for workers hired after 1997 and would have been eliminated for new workers.

 

Picket lines have now been set up at 14 facilities around the country. ”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.”

Unlike previous times in the last few decades, workers think that they have the deck stacked in their favor. Many worked throughout the pandemic and helped keep their companies in a good financial place. For example, Deere and Company, the parent company of John Deere, is on pace to make a record $6 billion in profit this year. This is a 61% increase in recent years. As thanks, the CEO got a 160% raise since the beginning of the pandemic, while workers were offered a 5% raise. The workers also know that the current labor shortage means that it won’t be easy for the company to find scabs who are willing to come in and try and break the strike. Additionally, workers believe that high agricultural commodity prices and the current supply chain bottlenecks will make John Deere less willing to wait out a long strike, causing them to lose millions in sales.

“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.”

According to a More Perfect Union, on the first day of picket lines in Ottumwa, Iowa about 120 people were walking the picket and restaurants were bringing down food to keep the workers fueled. Stores in the area also came by to let them know that they would be offering strike discounts to the UAW members. They also said that UPS drivers, who are members of the Teamsters union, were refusing to deliver packages to the facility as that would require them to cross the picket line. As UCOMM previously reported UPS drivers have the ability to put into their scanners that a union picket line has been established that they will not cross.

According to Jonah Furman, a reporter for Labor Notes, a lot of the non-union salaried employees at John Deere who he spoke to are also siding with the union during the strike. They say their wages have also not kept with the rising cost of living and that they aren’t interested in serving as scabs to help the company make profits while their union workers strike. One white-collar worker told Furman that the plan is to have these workers in the factory until at least November 1. One of them even referred to himself as a “strikebreaker” because he said his skill level and that of the white-collar workers would never come close to actually breaking the strike.

The UAW members join a host of other workers who has decided to go out on strike to get a better contract. This includes miners in Alabama, BCTGM members at Frito-Lays and Nabisco where the strike ended with a better deal for the workers, UFCW members Heaven Hill Distilleries, healthcare workers in Buffalo, and BCTGM workers at Kellogg’s. The strike wave could also grow next week as 60,000 IATSE members are set to walk out on Monday if a deal is not reached over the weekend. 24,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente have also authorized a strike, although talks continue on that contract.

If you are interested in helping these striking workers, picket lines are set up at the plants in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas. While it does not appear that a strike fund has been set, you can help the workers by calling local restaurants and ordering them food. For some other tips, check out UCOMM Do’s and Don’ts of Supporting a Strike.

You can also click here to make a video supporting the workers. UCOMM will share out the best ones on our social media channels.

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