John Deere workers strike after contract negotiations fail

Some 10,000 unionized workers at farm equipment maker Deere & Company went on strike Thursday morning after overwhelmingly rejecting...


Some 10,000 unionized workers at farm equipment maker Deere & Company went on strike Thursday morning after overwhelmingly rejecting a contract proposal worked out with the company by negotiators from the United Automobile Workers union.

“Our John Deere members are on strike so they can earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish a level playing field,” Chuck Browning, director of the union’s agriculture department, said in a statement. A declaration. “We remain committed to negotiating until our members’ goals are met.

Deere said he was “determined to reach a deal” that would benefit workers. “We will continue to work day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike, while keeping our operations ongoing for the benefit of all we serve,” said Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations at the company, in a press release. .

The strike deadline was announced on Sunday after the union said its members voted against the agreement in principle reached Oct. 1 with the company that makes the John Deere tractor brand. Union negotiators said the proposal would bring “significant economic gains” and “the highest quality health care delivery in the industry”.

But the workers, who are spread across 14 facilities, mostly in Iowa and Illinois, criticized the deal for insufficiently raising wages, denying a traditional pension to new employees, and failing to improve in any way. substantial incentive program they consider stingy.

“We never had the stacked bridge to our advantage like it is now,” said Chris Laursen, a worker at a John Deere plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, who was president of his local until recently. .

Mr. Laursen cited several sources of influence for workers: the profitability of Deere & Company, which is on track to set a record of nearly $ 6 billion this exercise, as well as relatively high agricultural commodity prices and supply chain bottlenecks resulting from the pandemic.

“The company is reaping such rewards, but we are fighting for crumbs here,” he said.

Deere, long known to farmers for its line of green and yellow products, is a publicly traded company valued at over $ 100 billion. After a brief drop at the start of the pandemic, its shares have tripled, far surpassing the overall market. They increased slightly on Thursday.

Steve Volkmann, analyst at investment bank Jefferies, admitted Deere was doing well. “The prices of crops have gone up with all the other products,” he said, “and when farmers earn money, they tend to buy equipment”. And he said Deere’s leadership in agricultural technology has helped make it more profitable.

Mr Volkmann said the financial damage from the labor dispute, if resolved quickly, would be limited. The company’s biggest challenge, he said, comes from the disruption of the global supply chain by the pandemic, which has caused shortages and increased prices for some components.

“Deere is already under some stress,” he said. “Either way, they’re not producing at full capacity – they just don’t have the parts. “

While many employers grapple with labor shortages, workers across the country seem more willing to undertake strikes and other trade union actions.

Last week, more than 1,000 workers at Kellogg, the grain maker, went on strike, and Mondelez International, which makes Oreos and other Nabisco snacks, suffered a work stoppage this summer. Alabama coal miners have been on strike for months. The workers also carried out important union campaigns to Amazon and Starbucks.

Strikers elsewhere in the country have raised similar complaints to Deere employees, pointing out that they have put in long hours as essential workers during the pandemic, but are not sharing much of the profits their companies have reaped during this period.

“There was no respite – everyone was working seven days a week,” said Dan Osborn, president of a local branch of Kellogg workers in Omaha.

Mr Osborn said his members were unhappy with a two-tiered compensation system they said put downward pressure on the wages and benefits of veteran workers. “Divide and conquer is an old adage,” he said.

The Facebook pages some UAW locals on Thursday encouraged workers to report to the picket line, which one said would qualify them as strike pay and health insurance.

Union members at General Motors left the job for almost six weeks in 2019 before agreeing to a four-year contract that included substantial pay increases and reduced disparities in a two-tier pay structure.

Under the provisional agreement At Deere, wages would have increased by 5 or 6% this year, depending on the worker’s pay level, and then an additional 3% each in 2023 and 2025.

Pension benefits would have increased, but remained significantly lower for workers hired after 1997, and many workers were disappointed to see benefits eliminated for new hires, Laursen said.

Other workers worry about the lack of health care benefits for retirees, which also ceased for workers hired after 1997.

Analysts have suggested that Deere may be wary of taking on additional long-term bonds as its current level of profitability is unlikely to last.

“It’s a very cyclical business,” said Ann Duignan, analyst at JP Morgan. “They may have record profits this year, but we think we’re near a peak.”

Many workers were frustrated with similar elements in the union’s last contract with Deere, in 2015, and have since expected a showdown.

“I’ve been saving since the last contract,” said Toby Munley, a Deere electrician in Ottumwa, where UAW members voted to reject the previous contract, as did another Iowa local. “People felt it then.” This contract was narrowly approved.

Above the bargaining looms suspicion among grassroots workers of the international union after a series of scandals in recent years involving corruption in the union and illegal payments to union officials of executives at the company then known as Fiat Chrysler.

Scandals led to more than 15 convictions, including those of two recent UAW presidents.

Mr Munley said he feared the UAW would try to negotiate a slightly better deal and sell its members before the strike deadline on Wednesday night, but said he was encouraged that the union had held on.

“I was happy to see that we did not come back with an agreement in principle,” he said. “It gave me back confidence in my international.”

Nelson D. Schwartz contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: John Deere workers strike after contract negotiations fail
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