MOLINE, Ill. — More than 10,000 John Deere workers were on the picket line Thursday after their union was unable to hammer out a new contract with management of the tractor company.
Workers at 14 Deere & Co. locations made good on their vow to go on strike at the stroke of midnight after "the company failed to present an agreement that met our members’ demands and needs,” The United Auto Workers union said in statement.
"Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules," said Chuck Browning, vice president and director of the UAW's Agricultural Implement Department.
Union workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer this week that would have delivered 5 percent raises to some workers and 6 percent to others.
Now, the UAW said, workers will picket Deere around the clock until the two sides reach a contract. The union will provide members $275 a week in strike pay until the standoff is over.
This is the first major strike in 35 years at John Deere, which is known for its iconic green and yellow farm equipment. And workers, many of whom have been toiling extra hours for months because of pandemic-related worker shortages, say they are fed up.
"The whole nation's going to be watching us," Chris Laursen, who works as a painter at Deere, told The Des Moines Register. “If we take a stand here for ourselves, our families, for basic human prosperity, it’s going to make a difference for the whole manufacturing industry. Let’s do it. Let’s not be intimidated.”
Deere & Co. said it wants to keep talking.
"We are determined to reach an agreement with the UAW that would put every employee in a better economic position and continue to make them the highest paid employees in the agriculture and construction industries," Brad Morris, Deere vice president of labor relations, said in a statement obtained by the Register.
But the company admitted in May that it was struggling to find enough qualified workers to meet its production needs.
This year, another group of UAW-represented workers went on strike at a Volvo Trucks plant in Virginia and wound up with better pay and lower-cost health benefits after rejecting three tentative contract offers.
The contracts under negotiation cover 14 Deere plants across the United States, including seven in Iowa, four in Illinois and one each in Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.
The contract talks at the Moline, Illinois-based company hit a wall even as Deere was expecting to report record profits of $5.7 billion to $5.9 billion this year. The company has been reporting strong sales of its agricultural and construction equipment this year.
The Deere production plants are an important contributors to the economy, so local officials hope any strike will be short-lived.
“We definitely want to see our economy stabilize and grow after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati told to The Quad-Cities Times. “Hopefully, these parties can come to a resolution soon.”
Heidi Egger told OurQuadCities.com that she was a high school senior when her dad and many of her uncles went on strike in 1986. That strike lasted almost six months.
“He sat me down and asked if there was any way he could borrow some money from me to put food on the table and pay some bills,” Egger said of her dad. “So of course I grabbed my savings and what I had in my paycheck. My mom had to go to work, was really crushing for my dad and he picked up any odd jobs he could come up with just to make ends meet.”
Corky Ciemaszko reported from New York and The Associated Press from Illinois.