Some 10,000 members of the United Auto Workers have gone on strike against the John Deere Co., which makes agricultural and construction equipment at factories in the Midwest.
The unionized Deere workers rejected a company proposal of a 6-year contract with a pay increase of between 4% and 6% but would have eliminated pension benefits for new employees. Roughly 90% of the Deere workers voted to reject the contract presented by union bargainers.
The company failed to present an agreement that met our members’ demands and needs, according to Chuck Browning, UAW vice president responsible for bargaining with Deere, which has made substantial profits in the past year and seen its share price more than double in the past 12 months
“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” said Browning. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved,” he added.
UAW members frustrated
“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,” Smith said.
The Deere strike also illustrates a rising sense of militancy and frustration among UAW members, who have seen wages and benefits erode over the years, while UAW’s top leadership has been caught in a devastating corruption scandal that left two former presidents, Gary Jones and Dennis Williams, convicted of major felonies. Both Jones and Williams are now serving prison sentences.
UAW members at Volvo Truck in Virginia rejected a management proposals three times this past summer and stayed out on strike for more than a month before narrowly voting to approve a fourth contract offer. The Volvo strike also served to fuel the push for reform inside the UAW where members will soon vote on whether to change the union’s constitution to allow union members to vote for top officers.
Strike comes amid a wave of unrest
The walkout at Deere also comes amid a surge of labor activism, which has followed the pandemic, the breakdown of the so-called global supply chain and rising concern about the economic inequality that has lifted the pay of executives but undercut the standard of living of many middle-class Americans
The Hill, a news site that covers activity on Capitol Hill and political trends across the country, noted this week more than 100,000 workers, including those from Deere, were on the verge of striking. In addition to the manufacturing workers at Deere, workers in a variety of industries including healthcare and Hollywood production crews working on of new films and televisions show have authorized strike, according to the Hill, unless employers offer richer contracts.
In addition, hundreds of workers, including 2,000 New York hospital workers, 700 Massachusetts nurses and 1,400 Kellogg plant workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee as well as 500 workers at Bourbon distillery in Kentucky in what is the largest wave of strike in decades.
After months of resistance, AXPO Logistics, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, agreed this week to provide $30 million in back pay to the company’s “port drivers” in Los Angeles, who move freight for the Port of LA and Long Beach to distribution centers east of the city. The drivers contended the had been cheated by the company out of overtime premiums, according to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Walkout at Deere a foretaste of unrest in auto sector
Todd Vachon, director of the Rutgers Labor Education Action Research Network, told station WQAD in Moline, Illinois, a shortage of workers is giving employees at Deere and other companies a little bit of leverage they have not had in the past.
“Not only do they (employers) need to keep their businesses running and keep the employees they have happy, but they don’t even have enough employees to keep the businesses just barely going as they are,” Vachon said. “I think that it’s kind of caught on among a lot of people that, hey, this is the time to try and make changes that we’ve been wanting to make for decades,” he said.
“It’s definitely been a while since we’ve seen this amount of unrest,” he said.
The unrest also could be a harbinger of things to come in the auto industry, where contracts at companies such as Deere are watched carefully by carmakers and suppliers, which are also beginning to feel the pinch of workers shortages and played a role in ZF’s agreement to resolve a dispute with the UAW.
General Motors, Ford and Stellantis will need to negotiate new contracts with the UAW in less than two years and many union members are still unhappy about the two-tier wage system that continues to prevail despite the 40-day strike against GM in 2019.