Company threatens use of strikebreakers
Moline, IL – Members of the United Auto Workers employed at John Deere remained on strike last week after rejecting a second tentative contract agreement.
In a vote concluded on Nov. 2, more than 10,000 UAW members at John Deere voted down the tentative agreement by a vote of 45 percent “yes” to 55 percent “no.”
In a statement, the union said, “The strike against John Deere and company will continue as we discuss next steps with the company.”
The new deal would have included a 10 percent raise for workers and addressed a number of their concerns, but workers said they are concerned about the vagueness of the company’s commitment to improving its incentive plan.
“How would you treat someone that steals from you?” said one worker to Labor Notes Jonah Furman. “When given the opportunity, you punch them in the mouth. That’s what we did tonight. We’ve been under attack for years and only get one chance to stand up for yourself.”
Union workers remain on strike at 12 midwest factories and facilities of the farm and construction equipment company in Iowa and Illinois.
DEERE THREATENS USE OF STRIKEBREAKERS
John Deere has threatened to use strikebreakers and import equipment from overseas factories to continue providing products to its customers.
Workers are particularly concerned about what they describe as the company’s inadequate pension, health care and wage provisions.
Workers noted that the company is on pace for record profits of about $6 billion this year.
The Washington Post described the environment that led to workers rejecting the offers this way:
“Experts say workers have become more emboldened as economic conditions tip the scales in their favor. Corporate profits are soaring as the economy emerges from pandemic-induced doldrums, but companies are facing a shortage of workers. After decades of concessionary contracts driven by outsourcing and the automation of industrial labor, Labor leaders see an opportunity to increase pay and win back long-lost benefits.”
A former local union president in Ottumwa, Iowa, Chris Laursen, told the New York Times he voted for the latest contract but still has concerns about the vagueness of the company’s commitments.
“We have the support of the community, we have the support of workers all around the country,” he said. “If we turned down a 20 percent increase over a six-year period and substantial gains to our pension plan, I’m afraid we would lose that.”
The much-despised two-tier compensation system – with reduced benefits for workers hired since 1997 – would have continued under the revised agreement, and it remained a major concern of workers, who feel they finally have a chance to make some gains.
“The Deere strikers and others may be gaining a new awareness of their leverage in the current labor market and that the time to act is now,” Professor Chris Rhomberg of Fordham University told Bloomberg News. “The stakes are high, but a victory for the union in this strike can help reshape the terms of the post-pandemic economy.”
Cornell economist Harry Katz said Deere may have miscalculated its position.
“It looks like in this circumstance, John Deere thought it had more bargaining power than it does,” he said. “The company has improved its offer significantly, and it might have to do so again.”
University of Chicago historian Gabriel Winant said workers are trying to recoup serious losses from previous decades in wages, pensions and health care.
“Thirty-five years ago, workers at Deere lost a lockout and took a deal that froze and reduced wages,” he told Bloomberg News. “Today they rejected an offer that starts with a 10 percent raise. It’s the biggest downward shift in the economic balance of power in my lifetime.”
As of Labor Tribune press time Monday, no new bargaining or offers had been announced, and the workers remained on strike.</p