Photo: Striking John Deere workers in Milan, Illinois with Local 79 (Source: @norinshelby)
By Sarah Ahmed
On Tuesday, John Deere workers with United Auto Workers (UAW) voted to reject a second tentative contract by a 10% margin. Over 10,000 workers are continuing their three-week-long strike, spanning plants in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.
The rejected contract included an immediate 10% raise and additional 5% raises after 3 and five years, as well as lump sum retirement payments, an $8,500 ratification bonus, and a no-premium healthcare plan. A Des Moines worker told Tribune that many workers who voted against the contract are fighting for a return to the benefits lost with the 1997 contract. In 1997, UAW negotiated a contract which made many concessions to Deere and Co. and instituted a two-tier system. Existing workers maintained their basic benefits, while workers hired after 1997 saw their pay and benefits cut in half and lost their healthcare benefits in retirement.
A worker of 23 years who voted against the contract told monopoly media outlet USA Today that he earns less than his father did when he retired. “I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about people behind me. My dad thought about people behind him. My aunt thought about people behind her. And my grandfather thought about people behind him.”
A Davenport worker told Tribune after the strike authorization vote, “Basically if hired after ‘97, we lost pensions, hourly wages, and vacation time. A lot of people are asking to make what ‘the old timers’ before 1997 made. I don’t see why anybody [isn’t] asking for 1980’s or 90’s wages. We should be making substantially more now, as the company is.”
According to Deere and Co.’s third quarter press release, Deere and Co. made $4.7 billion in profit during the first nine months of the year, beating their profits made in the previous record year, 2013.
Following the Tuesday vote, John Deere has tried to intimidate employees by claiming that the rejected contract was their final offer. Given the nature of the work, which is highly skilled in heavy industry, the workers are well-positioned to continue their fight and hurt Deere and Co.’s production during the harvest season. John Deere has struggled to hire strikebreakers and has instead relied on their salaried office employees to perform labor without the necessary training in machining, assembly, and welding.
Throughout the strike, numerous reports of accidents and injuries involving the office workers have spread widely on social media. According to an accident report sent to labor reporter Jonah Furman, this week a Des Moines office worker suffered severe arm, hand, and finger injuries when their arm was pulled into machinery.
A salaried worker speaking to The Intercept said that Deere has stopped putting accident reports in writing to prevent the public from seeing the dangerous environment the company has created by using untrained employees. “They would normally bring up specific cases at the start-up meeting so everyone knows what happened and what corrective actions there were, at least if it happened locally,” the worker said, “They aren’t even updating us with ‘near misses’ like they normally would for fear of it leaking out.”
A striking worker who voted to reject the contract told reporter Jonah Furman, “How would you treat someone that steals from you? When given the opportunity, you punch them in the mouth. That’s what we did tonight. We’ve been under attack for years and only get one chance to stand up for yourself.”
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