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Strike continues: Workers again vote down 6-year John Deere contract

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The strike among John Deere workers shows no signs of ending as the membership of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) again voted down a second negotiated contract agreement. Workers have been on strike since Oct. 14, when a two-week extension of the six-year contract formally expired with issues including annual pay raises, retirement benefits, and health care remaining obstacles.

While the initial contract was overwhelmingly rejected (upwards of 90 percent of union members voted against it), the vote on this revised agreement was much narrower, with only 55 percent voting against it. The contract in question covers over 10,100 production and maintenance employees at 14 facilities across the United States.

Although the UAW had not released official details, a summary of the second tentative agreement had been posted online. According to The Associated Press, “Union workers at Deere & Co. would get wage increases of 10% in the first year and 5% each in the third and fifth years under a tentative contract.” The new contract also included an $8,500 ratification bonus along with additional lump sums throughout the life of the contract. 

Workers have been feeling for months that they had more leverage than in years past in terms of coming up with a new contract, with Deere & Co. at one of its most profitable points in history. 

Forklift operator Irving Griffin, who has been with Deere for 11 years, told the Des Moines Register that he had planned to vote against the contract because he believed the company can offer even more.

The UAW had little to say after this second vote, only that, “The strike against John Deere and company will continue as we discuss next steps with the company,” according to a statement. Some members expressed that union negotiators have not been working hard enough, especially in the months leading up to the expiration of the contract, to advance the wishes of the membership.

According to The Associated Press, a Deere spokesman said this about the latest rejected deal: “Through the agreements reached with the UAW, John Deere would have invested an additional $3.5 billion in our employees, and by extension, our communities, to significantly enhance wages and benefits that were already the best and most comprehensive in our industries,” said Marc Howze, Deere’s chief administrative officer. “This investment was the right one for Deere, our employees, and everyone we serve together.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Chris Laursen, a worker at a John Deere plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, who was president of his local there until recently, said, “The company is reaping such rewards, but we’re fighting over crumbs here.”

This is the first strike at John Deere in 35 years, when workers walked out for 163 days amid the 1980s’ farm crisis.

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