Some 10,000 unionized workers at farm equipment maker Deere & Co went on strike early Thursday after negotiators for the United Automobile Workers union overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer worked out with the company.
“At John Deere our members strike for their ability to live a decent life, retire with honors, and establish fair work rules,” said Chuck Browning, director of the union’s Department of Agriculture. a statement. “We remain committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”
Deere said it was “determined to reach an agreement” that would benefit workers. Brad Morris, the company’s vice president for labor relations, said in a statement, “We will continue to work day and night to understand the priorities of our employees and resolve this strike, as we continue to optimize our operations for the benefit of all of them.” Will keep it going.” .
NS strike deadline It was announced on Sunday after the union said its members had not voted. temporary settlement Arrived on October 1st with the company, which manufactures the John Deere brand of tractors. Central negotiators had said the proposal would provide “significant economic benefits” and “the highest quality health care benefits in the industry”.
But workers, which are spread across 14 facilities primarily in Iowa and Illinois, criticized the deal for inadequate pay increases for denying traditional pensions to new workers and failing to substantially improve an incentive program called They are considered miserly.
“We’ve never stacked the deck in our profits,” said Chris Lawerson, an employee at the John Deere plant in Otumwa, Iowa, who until recently was president of his local.
Mr. Lawson cited several sources of leverage for workers: Deere & Co.’s profitability – which is on a record-setting pace about $6 billion This fiscal year – as well as relatively high agricultural commodity prices and supply-chain bottlenecks as a result of the pandemic.
“The company is reaping such rewards, but we are fighting to pieces here,” he said.
Deere, long known to farmers for its green and yellow product line, is a publicly traded company valued at more than $100 billion. After a brief drop at the start of the pandemic, its shares have tripled, far more than the overall market. There was a slight increase in them on Thursday.
Steve Volkman, an analyst at investment bank Jefferies, acknowledged that Deere was doing well. “With every other commodity, crop prices have risen, and when farmers make money, they buy equipment,” he said. And he said Deere’s leadership in agricultural technology has helped make it more profitable.
Mr Volkman said the financial damage caused by the labor dispute, if it is resolved quickly, would be limited. The company’s major challenge, he said, comes from the pandemic’s disruption in supply chains around the world, which has led to shortages of some components and increased prices.
“Deere is already under some stress,” he said. “They’re not producing at full capacity anyway – they just don’t have the parts.”
All the employers across the country are facing labor shortage look more interested To take strike and other labor action.
Last week, more than 1,000 employees at cereal company Kellogg’s, went on strike, and Mondelez International, which makes Oreos and other Nabisco snacks, experienced interruptions. this summer. Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for months. The workers have also launched major union campaigns here. heroine And starbucks.
Strikers elsewhere in the country have raised similar complaints to Deere employees, pointing out that they worked long hours as essential workers during the pandemic, but their companies benefited as much during that time. , not sharing that much profit.
“There was no respite – everyone was working seven days a week,” said Dan Osborne, president of the local Kellogg workers in Omaha.
Mr Osborne said his members were upset with the two-tier compensation system that he worried would put pressure on veteran workers’ wages and benefits. “Divide and conquer, it’s an old saying,” he said.
Union Members at General Motors He left the job for about six weeks in 2019 before agreeing to a four-year contract that included substantial pay increases and closed inequalities in a two-tier pay structure.
Down temporary deal At Deere, depending on the pay grade of an employee, wages would have increased by 5 or 6 percent this year, and then an additional 3 percent each in 2023 and 2025.
Pension benefits would have increased but remained significantly lower for workers hired after 1997, and many workers were disappointed with benefits ending for new workers, Mr. Lawson said.
Other workers are upset over the lack of health care benefits for retirees, which also closed for workers hired after 1997.
Analysts suggested that Deere may be wary of taking on additional long-term obligations as its current level of profitability is unlikely to sustain.
“It’s a very cyclical business,” said Ann Duignon, an analyst at JPMorgan. “They may have record profits this year, but we believe we are close to a peak.”
Many workers were frustrated by similar elements of the previous contract, which the union negotiated with Deere in 2015, and has since feared a showdown.
“I’ve been saving since the last contract,” said Toby Munley, a Deere electrician in Otumawa, where UAW members voted to decline the previous contract, as did another local in Iowa. “People were feeling it then.” That contract was approved narrowly as a whole.
Negotiations among rank-and-file workers toward the international union are doubted after a series of scandals in recent years corruption in union and illegal payments from company executives to union officials then known as Fiat Chrysler.
scams led more than 15 sentences, including two recent UAW presidents.
Mr Munley said he was worried the UAW would try to negotiate a marginally better deal and sell membership on it before the strike deadline on Wednesday night, but said he was encouraged that the union was firm.
“I was happy to see that we didn’t come back with a tentative agreement,” he said. “It restored some confidence in my international.”
Nelson D. Schwartz Contributed reporting.