More than 10,000 John Deere workers went on strike Thursday after negotiations failed to deliver yet again over the renewal of a six-year union contract. This is the first strike in 35 years, when workers walked out for 163 days amid the 1980s’ farm crisis.
The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) said in a statement that John Deere leadership “failed to present an agreement that met our members’ demands and needs.”
Tensions have been mounting for the past two weeks, and a workers were on the cusp of a strike on Oct. 1 when the contract originally expired. A tentative deal was reached just minutes after midnight, extending that current contract for a few more days to allow negotiations to continue and temporarily staving off a strike.
Details of the proposed 300-page contract leaked 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.
UAW membership voted on the contract Sunday evening and overwhelmingly rejected it — 90 percent voted against it, according to reports. Union negotiators had hoped to use the past couple of days to revise the contract and to see if any concessions could be made, but the effort was an uphill battle from the start.
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.
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.”
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.