Deere Workers Extend Strike After Rejecting 2nd Contract Offer

By Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully
November 4, 2021 Updated: November 4, 2021

Approximately 10,100 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) will extend their strike into a third week after rank-and-file union members of farm and construction equipment maker Deere & Co. on Nov. 2 voted down what the company called its best and final proposal.

The second proposal included an $8,500 ratification bonus, a 10 percent pay increment, 30 percent wage increases over the term of the contract, improved retirement benefits and parental leave pay, and a post-retirement health care fund seeded by $2,000 per year of service.

According to The Washington Post, Marc Howze, Deere’s chief administrative officer, said in a Nov. 3 interview that the company is done negotiating and satisfied to have narrowed the margin between the two proposals.

Howze was referring to the first proposal on Oct. 1, which was rejected by the workers with a 90 percent vote margin. The current vote was closer, with the margin reduced to 55 percent who remained in opposition.

“Through the agreements reached with the UAW, John Deere would have invested an additional $3.5 billion in our employees, and by extension, our communities, to significantly enhance wages and benefits that were already the best and most comprehensive in our industries,” Howze said in a statement.

The strike began on Oct. 14 at Deere’s 14 facilities, mostly located in the Midwest. Proponents have called for the Moline, Illinois-based company to share more of their record annual profits of approximately $6 billion in 2021; they say Deere can offer up more benefits. However, Deere workers in Atlanta and Denver have accepted the company’s latest offer, reducing the number of facilities under strike to 12.

The UAW released a short statement following the rejection of the second proposal.

“The strike against John Deere and Company will continue as we discuss next steps with the company. Pickets will continue and any updates will be provided through the local union.”

The company is currently maintaining its stance. “There was maybe a sense that because we were able to reach an agreement as fast as we could, maybe there’s something left on the table,” Howze told The Washington Post. “Well, there’s not.”

Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America, says UAW workers have been emboldened based on the second rejection; they presume they’re winning, despite the company’s statement.

“They’re saying what they believe—their feelings are hurt,” Cohen said of Deere management, according to The New York Times. “But what are they going to do about it? They’re not going to get the workers back.”

As the economy recovers from the pandemic, there has been a wave of strikes happening in many parts of the country demanding better working conditions, wages, and benefits.

In an interview with NPR, Joseph McCartin, a professor of history and the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor, said the “pandemic disrupted a lot of the status quo and labor management relations.”

McCartin said that after a significant social upheaval like the pandemic, people expect more when “looking at a labor market that they feel still doesn’t reward them as they feel they ought to be rewarded.” He expects this phenomenon to continue for “quite a while” until employers possibly “make some improvements.”

Based on Cornell University data, more than 25,000 employees walked off their jobs last month, leading many to coin the term “Striketober.”

A strike at one of Kellogg’s cereal factories involves more than 1,000 workers, while there is also a strike at a hospital in Upstate New York with 2,000 hospital staff members. In addition, Connecticut steel plant workers have stopped working for better benefits and pension plans.

Representatives at Deere didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.