John Deere strike ends as UAW members approve new contract

John Deere factory tour and testing in Augusta, Georgia. — Charles & Hudson/Flickr

UAW members voted to accept the latest contract offer from Deere & Company on Wednesday night, ending the strike that began on Oct. 14. By the start of the third shift on Wednesday night, workers had returned to the company’s production facilities.

“Members and their families put a lot on the line for these gains and the community support was overwhelming,” Ron McInroy, director for the UAW region that includes Iowa, said in a statement after the vote.

A new Iowa Poll published by the Des Moines Register on Monday showed strong public support for the more than 6,000 Iowa Deere workers who were on strike. According to the poll, 58 percent of Iowans sided with the strikers, while only 16 percent said they supported the company.

“John Deere’s success depends on the success of our people,” Deere CEO John C. May said in a statement after strikers voted to accept the new six-year contract. “Through our new collective bargaining agreements, we’re giving employees the opportunity to earn wages and benefits that are the best in our industries and are groundbreaking in many ways.”

Last month, a striking Deere worker at the company’s Davenport Works, told Labor Notes, “When you factor in the pandemic, being deemed essential workers, and in our case, having a company turning a record profit, the CEO giving himself a 160 percent raise, and giving a 17 percent dividend raise, we kinda feel like we’re left to kick rocks.”

May did receive a 160 percent increase in pay in fiscal year 2020, bringing his annual compensation to $16 million, which was 220 times the median pay of Deere workers. And the company has had a string of extremely profitable years. As In These Times reported, since the last UAW contract was ratified in 2015 through the first nine months of fiscal year 2021, the company made more than $16 billion in profits.

“The company spent roughly $5 billion on dividends and $4.95 billion on share repurchases; nearly $10 billion in total was given to shareholders during the six years of the previous contract,” the magazine reported.

According to analysts, Deere should earn almost $6 billion in profits this year, a record-setting amount.

The contract voted on Wednesday night was the third proposal from the company and the second one it described as its “last, best and final offer.”

The third proposed contract preserved the gains UAW members earned in the company’s second proposal, including an immediate 10 percent pay increase and access for new hires to the established retirement benefits. The most significant update in the third proposal was a change to the Continuous Improvement Performance Program (CIPP).

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. Under the new contract, that bonus will increase to 20 percent.

Approximately 61 percent of the UAW members at Deere’s 14 production facilities around the country voted to approve the contract.

The 34-day-long strike was the largest labor action in Iowa in more than 30 years.

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