John Deere UAW members to vote Nov. 2 on tentative pact
John Deere Drivetrain Operations workers in Waterloo, Iowa, stand on the picket line at the plant as the United Auto Workers officially started its strike on Oct. 14, 2021. A tentative deal has been reached, but it awaits worker approval. | Chris Zoeller / The Courier via AP

WATERLOO, Iowa—The 10,100 Auto Workers who toil at 12 John Deere farm equipment plants in Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas are scheduled to vote Nov. 2 on a tentative new six-year contract with the big farm equipment maker—but will keep walking picket lines until results are in. The union did not release an election schedule.

The pact, reached Oct. 28, calls for a raise of 10% in its first year, 3% lump sums in the second, fourth and sixth years, and 5% raises in the third and fifth years and an $8,500 ratification bonus, UAW Local 281 reported. And there would be no changes in their health insurance costs.

The forced strike at John Deere is one of the unusually—for recent years—large number of strikes in one month, which prompted the AFL-CIO to label the month “Striketober.”

The Deere workers thus joined other exploited workers from coast to coast, both those forced to strike and those whom the coronavirus pandemic forced out of jobs and who later decided to leave low pay and unsafe conditions for good. Hundreds of thousands have found better-paying jobs with better benefits, as bosses have been forced to scramble for help.

The union itself did not release details of the pact, which it sent to its John Deere members. This pact was the second try by its bargainers at reaching an agreement. The first one, with much smaller raises and few other details, lost by a nine-to-one ratio. The workers were forced to strike Oct. 14.

Local 281, which is in Deere’s headquarters city of Moline, Ill., also said the new pact includes a retirement bonus of $37,500 each for workers who have toiled for 10-24 years, and workers with longer tenures would get $50,000 each.

John Deere has the money. The AP reported it expects to net $5.7 billion this year, almost triple the $2 billion it netted in 2020.

Enthusiasm and solidarity on the picket lines are high, says Mark Froemke, president of the Western Minnesota Labor Council, who drove hundreds of miles from his home near Moorhead, Minn., on the North Dakota border, to walk the lines with John Deere workers in Waterloo, Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa, and elsewhere.

“They were quite determined to win a fair and just contract,” Froemke said afterwards. “They had so many walking the lines in Waterloo they were walking four-hour shifts. In Des Moines (Iowa), they have 850 workers out and were doing eight-hour shifts.”

And when the workers asked him why he drove so far, from Minnesota, to walk with them, Froemke’s succinct answer was “to show solidarity from workers in Minnesota.” They were surprised and delighted, he added.

Picked up wide support

Members of the UAW strike outside of a John Deere plant, Oct. 20, 2021, in Ankeny, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall / AP

The John Deere workers also picked up wide community support, and not just in the immediate area, Froemke reported. “I got Charley Wishman, the Iowa Federation of Labor President, onto Charley Heitkamp’s radio show” in Moorhead, to talk about why the workers were forced to strike.

“We have a lot of farmers in our area and they wanted to know if they can get John Deere equipment” and parts, Froemke explained.

The number of UAW members on picket lines was so large in Davenport the company got an injunction from Iowa District 7 Chief Judge Marlita Greve, which Local 281 denounced and appealed, limiting pickets to four per gate, with none at the “neutral” contractors gate. The injunction was in effect when Froemke got there.

She also barred any pickets at one “neutral” contractors gate in Davenport. The bosses alleged the picketers were blocking traffic.

Greve also ordered the picketers to remove fire barrels and chairs. The workers needed the fire barrels because picketing was round the clock. Greve, adopting the company’s arguments, said the workers were harassing incoming drivers, which was “unwarranted, impermissible and unlawful.

Froemke said Deere struck back with another unusual tactic: Pressuring the workers to break picket lines by citing a shortage of parts and the need to make repairs to farm equipment using what parts were available.

The company cited demand from customers—who by and large supported the workers. Froemke added—and shortages due to traffic jams of cargo ships awaiting unloading of farm equipment parts at the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach. Deere’s tactic failed.

“Our UAW John Deere national bargaining team went back to our local members after the previous tentative agreement and canvassed the concerns and priorities of membership,” said UAW President Ray Curry, when he announced the new tentative agreement.

“We want to thank the UAW bargaining team and striking UAW members and their families for the sacrifices they have made to achieve these gains. Our members have enjoyed the support of our communities and the entire labor movement nationwide as they have stood together in support and solidarity these past few weeks.”

Chuck Browning, UAW’s Vice President for the Agricultural Implement Department, called the new pact’s pay raises “enhanced” and declared it has the best-quality health care benefits among farm implement makers. “The negotiators focused on improving the areas of concern identified by our members during our last ratification process.” He led the bargainers.

The uprisings by workers from one end of the country to the other are keeping Froemke and his cohorts busy. After walking with the Iowans, Froemke headed to Omaha, Neb., to join Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco and Grain Miller members whom Kellogg’s forced to strike. Morale was high there, too, he said.

Officials like Froemke are not the only ones traveling around to back workers who are on strike. BCTGM Kellogg’s members in Lancaster, Pa., welcomed an even higher up leader on Oct. 28: U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who was a long-time leading member of Laborers 223.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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