John Deere workers on Sunday overwhelmingly voted down the first tentative agreement negotiated by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the company. Among the over 90 percent of members voting, 90 percent voted no.
The UAW has announced a new strike deadline of 11:59 PM on Wednesday, October 13. If no new agreement is reached with the company by then, 10,000 Deere workers in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas will walk out.
Members’ frustrations ranged from what they feel are inadequate wage increases to the decision to end the pension for new hires and switch to a “Choice Plus” plan that many felt was scant on details.
Deere is in the midst of its most profitable year ever. The farm equipment manufacturer expects to rake in $5.7 to $5.9 billion in net income this year, far exceeding its previous high of $3.5 billion in 2013.
UAW members at Deere described rowdy scenes from at least some of the nine local meetings. In Waterloo, Iowa, Local 838, several members wrote “F*** No” on their T-shirts (they used the uncensored version). At the microphone, one member said that the only thing the agreement was good for was “wiping my a**.”
Members of the negotiating committee told members they started with a 24 percent wage increase that got whittled down to 11 to 12 percent over six years. In years two, four, and six, workers will receive lump-sum payments equivalent to 2 percent of their wages, in lieu of raises.
Workers also booed a representative from the UAW International, according to the Des Moines Register. “Members yelled at him about a 2018 vote, when union delegates approved a 31 percent pay hike for UAW leaders,” the paper reported.
In Ottumwa, Iowa, many members simply filed in, voted no, and left. “They knew they were voting no, they didn’t want to sit there and listen to the bulls***,” said Chris Laursen of Local 74.
In the Quad Cities, the four-city region of southeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois that’s home to Deere headquarters and several Deere plants, local TV news spoke to workers who described the meeting as “chaos.”
Big Numbers a Surprise
By late morning, it was clear to many members the contract was going down. Even so, the 90 percent figure far exceeded most expectations.
Late Sunday night, the UAW announced a new strike deadline of Wednesday at 11:59 PM. The bargaining committee is meeting with the company again today.
Members reported a combative mood on the job this morning. Anecdotally, workers report a spike in sick-outs. Those who are working are conscious that the more Deere can produce before a strike, the more inventory it can rely on to sustain profits during a work stoppage.
According to internal company emails seen by Labor Notes, the company has tapped white-collar employees in order to “cast a broader net to fill critical factory positions in the case of a work stoppage.” According to one of these workers, a number of them had to go out and buy steel-toe boots in preparation for their strikebreaking deployment.
A strike at Deere would be the largest private-sector walkout since 49,000 UAW members struck General Motors for forty-one days in 2019.
The contract rejection comes as UAW members prepare to vote later this month in a referendum on whether to directly elect the union’s top officers, following a corruption scandal that has landed two former UAW presidents in prison.
It also comes after members at Volvo’s Virginia truck plant voted 90 percent against two tentative agreements during an on-again, off-again strike earlier this year. Members there narrowly approved a contract in July.