The strike began at midnight on Wednesday, Oct. 13, after workers rejected a six-year agreement proposed by the employer on Oct. 10. John Deere proposed wage increases below inflation, specifically the company wanted to increase wages for most workers by $1 an hour and eliminate pensions for new hires. Meanwhile, the company itself, the world’s largest manufacturer of farm equipment, is making record profits. Top executives’ earnings have risen as a result, with John Deere CEO John S. May earning $15.6 million in 2020.
Union members find John Deere’s offer offensive, given that they made billions for the company during the pandemic. As the inscription on a popular T-shirt of striking workers reads:
“We were considered indispensable in 2020, prove it in 2021. You can’t produce from the comfort of your own home.”
UAW President and IndustriALL Executive Committee member Ray Curry said:
UAW members working for John Deere toiled during the pandemic. Back then, the company considered them indispensable because the equipment they produce feeds America, builds America and sustains the American economy. These indispensable workers, UAW members, show us all that their powerful unified union voice on the picket line can make a difference for working families, not just here, but across the country.”
The company tries to maintain production by using white-collar workers as strikebreakers, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
John Deere tries to stop the strike by hiring office workers to work with heavy machinery.
IndustriALL General Secretary Atle Hoye sent a letter of solidarity to Ray Curry saying:
“IndustriALL Global Union supports the 10,000 UAW members working at 14 John Deere plants in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas. We stand in solidarity with the demands made on behalf of John Deere workers – “a wage for a decent life, a decent pension and fair working conditions.
“We call on John Deere to fully consider the UAW members’ legitimate demands and to recognize the vital contributions and willingness of workers throughout the pandemic to continue working to produce needed agricultural, construction and energy equipment. We urge the company to agree to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement, including higher wages and increased retirement benefits.
“In addition, IndustriALL strongly condemns any attempt by the company to use strikebreakers to undermine social dialogue and negotiations between company management and our UAW affiliate union.”
Analysts see the strike as part of a protest action by advanced manufacturing workers employed in vital industries who have made great sacrifices during the pandemic. The John Deere strike is part of an unprecedented wave of strikes sweeping many industries in the U.S., dubbed “Striketober” by the media.
Union activists hope that this strike will be a turning point for the American labor movement, which has been in decline since Ronald Reagan defeated striking air traffic controllers in 1981. In the 1980s, two-tiered contracts were introduced, with worsening conditions for new workers. Worker activism fell to an all-time low after the 2008 financial crisis, when many feared losing their jobs.
But there are growing signs that workers want a deal on new terms, given the sacrifices they made during the pandemic.
According to the latest information, striking John Deere workers have expressed outrage at the company’s new offer, which would increase wages by just $2 to $3 over three years.