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UAW on strike at Deere for first time in 35 years after rejecting proposed contract

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 10/14/2021 Tyler Jett, Des Moines Register
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The United Auto Workers has called a strike of Deere & Co. for the first time in 35 years. 

After negotiating with the Moline, Illinois-based agricultural and construction equipment  manufacturer for two months, the union announced just after midnight that its 10,100 members in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas would go on strike and begin picketing outside of Deere’s plants.  

“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” UAW International Vice President Chuck Browning said in a statement. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.” 

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Brad Morris, Deere vice president of labor relations, said in a statement that “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."

UAW Local 838, which represents about 3,000 workers in Waterloo, the company’s largest plant, posted Thursday morning on Facebook that members will report for strike duty at 7 a.m. Local 450, which represents about 850 workers at Deere's Des Moines Works in Ankeny, posted a strike schedule on Wednesday afternoon, informing employees that they would begin picketing at midnight Wednesday if Deere and UAW didn’t reach an agreement. 

United Auto Workers, who work on John Deere products, picket outside the Deere & Co. Des Moines Works location, on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Ankeny. © Kelsey Kremer/The Register United Auto Workers, who work on John Deere products, picket outside the Deere & Co. Des Moines Works location, on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Ankeny.

Meanwhile, Deere posted on its website that “employees and others” will be in the company’s factories every day to continue production. The strike comes as Deere is struggling to keep up with demand. 

More: Deere workers are on strike. Here's why and what led to the UAW's contract rejection

The UAW first gave the company a strike deadline after 90% of employees voted against a six-year labor pact on Sunday. 

Strike preparations began even as talks continued between both sides Wednesday. Workers said Deere told them not to come in for second shifts in Ankeny and Ottumwa. They said the company also told employees not to report for work at its Waterloo plant after 11 p.m.

Deere is one of Iowa's largest industrial employers, with about 6,600 UAW-represented workers.

More: Here is what Iowa Democrats, mayors are saying about the UAW strike at Deere

Employees removed locks from their toolboxes before leaving Wednesday, and managers read talking points to their employees, advising them that the contract they rejected would have paid them well. Deere salaried employees erected barricades outside the Ankeny plant Wednesday afternoon, preventing access to the campus.

Outside of John Deere's Ankeny location on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. © Kelsey Kremer/The Register Outside of John Deere's Ankeny location on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.

Workers plan to picket Deere around the clock until the two sides reach a contract. The UAW will provide members $275 a week in strike pay as long as the strike continues.

The strike comes after Deere's factory employees worked through the height of the pandemic, even as some other manufacturers temporarily shut down.

In May, company managers told the Des Moines Register that they were struggling to hire enough workers. Based on the company's recent pace of production, executives told analysts in August that Deere had already booked all of its possible orders for some agricultural and construction machinery through the end of next fiscal year, in November 2022.

More: Here's the proposed contract that UAW workers at Deere rejected before going on strike

Deere is making more money than it ever has. Executives project that the company will turn a $5.7-$5.9 billion profit this year, beating its previous record year by at least 63%. 

CEO John May received $15.6 million in 2020, up 160% from the $6 million he earned in 2019. Much of his extra pay came in company stock and bonuses for Deere's financial performance.

The contract that members rejected Sunday would have increased wages by 5% or 6%, compared to what the workers made earlier this year. Deere promised 3% pay bumps in 2023 and 2025, as well as higher monthly payments for retired workers on the company's pension plan. But the company would have ended the pension plan for new employees hired after Nov. 1.

The last strike of Deere, in 1986, lasted for 163 days.

More: Everybody wants a John Deere tractor. But not everybody wants a John Deere job. Why?

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at tjett@registermedia.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: UAW on strike at Deere for first time in 35 years after rejecting proposed contract

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