Iowa Poll shows strong support for striking John Deere workers, as union members prepare to vote on new contract proposal

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Iowans strongly support the workers over the company in the ongoing strike of UAW workers against Deere & Company, according to a new Iowa Poll. The poll published by Des Moines Register on Monday found 58 percent of respondents “side mostly” with the workers, while only 16 percent said they sided with the company.

Seven percent said they didn’t support either side, and 19 percent said they were unsure.

The poll of 810 adults, conducted by Selzer & Co. for the Register and Mediacom, has a margin of error “of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.”

“Striking UAW members have a majority or plurality of Iowans’ support regardless of political party, age, gender, educational attainment, religious affiliation, income bracket or whether they live in a rural or urban area,” the Register said.

Only self-identified Republicans and rural residents gave the workers less than majority support in the poll, but even those demographics favored the UAW members by large pluralities. Among Republicans, 49 percent said they supported the union members, while only 24 percent sided with the company. Percentages were almost the same among rural residents, 48 percent to 25 percent.

In contrast, 75 percent of Democrats in the poll and 55 percent of self-described independents favored the strikers, as did 67 percent of people living in urban areas and 60 percent of suburbanites.

Seltzer & Co. conducted the poll from Nov. 7-10, so respondents were giving their opinions after UAW members rejected Deere’s second proposed contract and the company declared that proposal its “last, best and final” offer.

Since that offer was rejected, Deere has offered another revised contract proposal, which it is again describing as its “last, best and final.” This revised proposal will be voted on by UAW members on Wednesday.

The main change between the contract rejected on Nov. 3 and the one before union members now is an increase in pay for workers who are covered by the company’s Continuous Improvement Performance Program (CIPP). Currently members of designated CIPP teams receive a 15 percent increase in pay for a week in which they exceed their weekly production goal by at least 115 percent. In the latest contract offer, that bonus would increase to 20 percent.

Rebecca Guinn, factory manager at Deere’s Waterloo plant, took the unusual step of emailing “a letter Tuesday to more than 150 email addresses ranging from [Waterloo-area] business leaders to local elected officials and municipal employees” containing the company’s assessment of its latest contract offer, the Courier reported on Friday.

Tim Frickson, the president of UAW Local 838, which represents the Deere workers in Waterloo, responded to Guinn’s mass email in a post on the local’s Facebook page, saying “negotiations need to be done at the bargaining table and not social media or the news outlets. I feel that most communications put out by management have not been completely correct.”

More than 10,000 workers from Deere’s 14 production plants have been on strike since Oct. 14. Seven of Deere’s plants are located in Iowa, where over 6,000 Deere workers are striking in the largest labor action the state has seen in more than 30 years.

Prior to the strike, analysts had estimated the Deere & Company would make almost $6 billion in profits this year, eclipsing the record-setting $3.5 billion in profits it had in 2013.

The strike began after 90 percent of UAW members voted to reject a Deere contract proposal that contained immediate raises of either 5 or 6 percent for workers depending on their jobs. In its second contact proposal, Deere increased that offer to an immediate 10 percent raise.

In fiscal year 2020, Deere CEO John C. May saw his pay increase by 160 percent to $16 million. According to ExecPay, a compensation consulting firm that tracks the pay of executives at publicly traded companies, “44% of May’s compensation, or $6.9M, was in stock awards. May also received $835K of change in pension value and nonqualified deferred compensation earnings, $3.7M in non-equity incentive plan, $2.6M in option awards, $1.2M in salary, as well as $310K in other compensation.”

“For fiscal year 2020, the median employee pay was $70,743 at John Deere,” ExecPay noted in January. “Therefore, the ratio of John C. May’s pay to the median employee pay was 220 to one.”

Results of the UAW vote on Deere’s latest contract proposal are expected to reported on Wednesday night.

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