John Deere Workers Agree to Strike

by Colter Brown

Farmers could face challenges getting in their orders for John Deere equipment as the tractor giant’s union workers agreed at midnight Wednesday to go on strike.

Deere & Co. couldn’t reach an agreement with workers on a six-year labor contract, prompting thousands of employees to begin a strike on Thursday. Members of the United Auto Workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract that was previously agreed on by the union’s leadership and the tractor maker.

After weeks of negotiations, UAW leadership and the world’s biggest farm equipment maker reached agreements on wages and other benefits. However, Reuters says 90 percent of the union’s workers voted against the deal.

A source familiar with the negotiations says the workers understand they had to make concessions in the past and now want some of those back when Deere is doing financially well. The strike is taking place in the middle of harvest, making it difficult for farmers to find parts for tractors and combines.

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

UAW President Ray Curry said, “The almost one million UAW retirees and active members stand in solidarity with the striking UAW members at John Deere.”

The union’s call for a strike affects more than 10,000 workers at 14 Deere facilities nationally. UAW said union members had set up pickets.

“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.”

“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.”

Deere & Company does not currently have an estimate of when employees affected by the strike will resume activities or the timing for completion of negotiations with the UAW.  Deere had said earlier this week that the package offered to employees would have provided a 5% to 6% wage increase with higher payments also to Deere retirees. The contract, though, would have ended pension plans for new workers hired at facilities, the Des Moines Register reported.

Deere released a statement early Thursday that the company is committed to reaching a deal with workers.

“John Deere is committed to a favorable outcome for our employees, our communities, and everyone involved,” said Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere & Company. “We are determined to reach an agreement with the UAW that would put every employee in a better economic position and continue to make them the highest paid employees in the agriculture and construction industries. We will keep working day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike, while also keeping our operations running for the benefit of all those we serve.”

On Deere’s website, the company stated, “We’ll Keep Running,” and activated a contingency plan for workers to continue meeting needs for customers. “Deere is committed to a favorable outcome for everyone involved.”

Deere added, “In response to news of the UAW’s strike, we have activated our Customer Service Continuation (CSC) Plan. As part of John Deere’s CSC plan, employees and others will be entering our factories daily to keep our operations running. Our immediate concern is meeting the needs of our customers, who work in time-sensitive and critical industries such as agriculture and construction. By supporting our customers, the CSC Plan also protects the livelihoods of others who rely on us, including employees, dealers, suppliers and communities.”

This is the first strike by Deere employees since 1986. The previous strike, which lasted 163 days, came after Deere laid off thousands of employees during the 1980s farm crisis, the Des Moines Register reported. The current strike comes as Deere comes off a third-quarter report showing $1.667 billion in net income and projected full-year earnings ranging between $5.7 billion to $5.9 billion, “reflecting robust market conditions,” Deere reported in its third-quarter report in August.

“Our strong results, driven by essentially all product categories, are a testament to the exceptional efforts of our employees and dealers to keep our factories running and customers served while enduring significant supply-chain pressures,” said John C. May, chairman and chief executive officer, in August announcing Deere’s quarterly income. “We also made strategic investments in the quarter aligned with our smart industrial strategy. They will further our efforts to help our customers achieve improved profitability, productivity, and sustainability through the effective use of technology.”




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