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Deere workers overwhelmingly vote down new contract

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In a vote Sunday, John Deere workers with the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) rejected a six-year contract that would have impacted pay and benefits for more than 10,000 employees of the agricultural machinery manufacturer. The vote again sets the stage for a strike, as a tentative agreement that was reached on Oct. 1 is set to expire this week.

Details of the proposed 300-page contract began to leak out last week, and among the issues at the top of the list of concerns was the plan for wage increases that would fall below the current rate of inflation, according to labor website WSWS.org. “General wage increases are included in only three of the six years of the deal: 5 or 6 percent in 2021, depending on pay grade; then 3 percent in 2023 and 3 percent in 2025. Lump sum payments, which do not raise base pay, would be made in the alternating years,” the website reported.

Other contract changes impacted health-care benefits. Currently, Deere employees don’t have to pay for healthcare, but workers said they want their healthcare to continue to be provided post-retirement, according to news station WQAD. Instead, John Deere has included a bonus, so workers are offered a certain amount of money to offset the costs.

Adjustments to pension and retirement plans, as well as the expansion of parental and bereavement leave, are also part of the new contract terms.

News outlets reported that UAW leadership said roughly 90 percent of the membership voted against the contract on Sunday. Negotiators are expected to return to the bargaining table to see if a deal can be reached before the current contract extension expires on Wednesday.

When the tentative agreement had been reached a little over a week ago, Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere & Company had said, “Through this agreement, John Deere reinforces our longstanding commitment to provide employees the opportunities to earn the best wages and most comprehensive benefits in the agriculture and construction industries.”

UAW directors from regions 4 and 8 said in a statement last week, “We feel this tentative agreement addresses our members’ needs and creates the future they deserve.”

The vote by the membership clearly indicates otherwise, but there is no official word of whether a strike will take place if the extended contract is allowed to expire in a couple of days.

Deere & Co. has not experienced a strike since 1986, when employees sat out for 163 days during the farm crisis. Current negotiations involve 10,100 production ​and maintenance employees at a dozen plants in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas, as well as nearly 100 workers at Deere parts facilities in Colorado and Georgia.

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