John Deere Worker Killed while Walking to Picket Line

Photo: Richard Rich, 56 years old (Source: Family Photo)

By Sarah Ahmed

On October 27, Richard “Dick” Rich, a member of UAW Local 79, was hit by a car while walking to the picket line at the John Deere Parts Distribution Center in Milan, Illinois. Rich’s death was completely preventable and resulted from the company restricting picketing workers, in addition to the state government and union failing to prioritize the striking workers’ safety.

Rich, 56, had worked at John Deere for 15 years and was a third shift inspector at the Milan distribution center. He is survived by his wife, Jill.

Since the strike began in early October, Deere and Co. has kept striking workers from parking on company property. In Milan, workers park in an empty lot that is half a mile away and must cross a four-lane highway, Rock Island-Milan Parkway, in order to reach the picket line, which is where Rich was hit by a driver at 6 a.m. last Wednesday morning. The driver did not stop and has not been identified.

According to workers speaking to the monopoly media, the street lights at this intersection have been out since the beginning of the strike, making it difficult for drivers on the highway to see picketers when they cross. One union worker called the Milan municipal building to report the broken streetlight on October 15, but the light was only fixed after Rich’s death.

Milan City Administrator Steve Seiver claimed that UAW Local 79 planned to offer workers a shuttle to and from the picket line so that they wouldn’t need to walk across a highway, however, there are no reports that the union ever offered workers a shuttle service, and workers speaking to monopoly media say they had to walk across Rock Island-Milan parkway to reach the picket line.

John Deere and Co. has also used legal intimidation to limit striking workers, seeking injunctions against picketers in Ankeny and Davenport, Iowa. In Davenport, District Court Judge Marlita Greve granted Deere and Co.’s request to limit picketers outside Deere Davenport Works to four per gate. The injunction also banned chairs and burn barrels, which workers use for warmth, light, and to make the picket line more visible to passing cars.

One John Deere worker told Tribune, “It saddens me that my union brother lost his life due to the city of Milan not replacing the burnt out street lights.”

Tribune extends our condolences to the family and coworkers of Rich, and encourages our readers to donate to a fundraiser organized by Rich’s family: https://gofund.me/9b979a5f

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