John Deere Workers Determined to Fight, Share Doubts about Union

Photo: John Deere workers and family posing in front of tracker in Davenport, Iowa (Source: UAW Region 4 Facebook)

By Sarah Ahmed

In September, John Deere workers with United Auto Workers (UAW) locals in Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa voted to authorize a strike with a 99% vote margin. Despite the strong support for a strike, the UAW moved ahead with contract negotiations and announced a tentative agreement with John Deere on October 1, minutes after the previous contract expired at midnight on September 30. Workers who spoke to Tribune are angry that the UAW entered negotiations at all, and were still determined to go on strike.

The proposed contract would only pay workers overtime after forty total hours, and would remove overtime pay for weekends—currently, workers earn overtime if they work more than eight hours in a single day. The contract would also require workers to use their personal vacation days before they would be eligible for time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). With the previous contract, workers did not pay anything for their health insurance, but the tentative contract moves workers to a high-deductible plan that costs $70 per week for families.

In contrast with the weak contract proposed by the union, a welder in Davenport, Iowa said that workers are demanding a $10-per-hour raise, health care coverage with no premiums, and overtime pay after eight hours.

The Davenport worker told Tribune that the company has been padding orders and increasing production over the past several weeks during contract negotiations, benefiting from the drawn-out contract negotiations, with more time to prepare for the strike. He said, “I really thought we would strike Friday. At the deadline, Deere didn’t even have an offer, but the UAW agreed to keep us working. I feel like a strike is very possible Monday. I don’t trust the international UAW members at all and wouldn’t be surprised if they make another extension agreement.”

One worker in Des Moines, Iowa told Tribune that she will only receive a ‘highlighter’ (a bullet point version) of the contract on Friday morning, before their local votes on Sunday, October 10. “Other than what they told us at the strike vote, we have heard nothing about the contract,” she said.

The worker was doubtful that her local union representatives would fight for her and her coworkers if the broader international leadership didn’t want them to strike, saying, “I almost sometimes feel like the UAW is in bed with John Deere.”

The contract voted on in 2015 is still a point of contention, according to the Des Moines worker. She said workers who were present then insist they voted against it and do not understand how the contract passed. These workers have advised new workers to take pictures of their ballots in case of tampering and dishonesty from their union.

The Des Moines worker was adamant that she and her fellow workers had the leverage to fight. “We make the machines that the company makes all this money off of. If it wasn’t for us, John May [CEO of John Deere] wouldn’t have all the money he does,” she said. According to Deere and Company’s proxy statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company had a net revenue of $35.54 billion, and John May earned $16 million during the 2020 fiscal year.

The Davenport worker also voiced strong support for the strike. “We’ve made the company billions in record-breaking profits for years. We get nothing for it,” he said. “We’re all feeling like the company doesn’t care about us or our families. We deserve more, and a strike is the only way to get our point across.”

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