Judge rejects Deere & Company’s request for an injunction against striking workers in Ankeny

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

John Deere & Company’s attempt to disrupt picketing at its plant and a warehouse in Ankeny failed on Tuesday, as a Polk County judge rejected its petition for a temporary injunction against striking members of the UAW.

“Deere has failed to show that it will suffer substantial injury or damages will result unless an injunction is granted,” District Court Judge Paul Scott wrote in his decision.

Scott found that “other than a very few isolated incidents of slowing of vehicles” and blocking access to the plant for two outside contractors, “there have been little to no interruptions to Deere, other than those that are the natural result of a slowing or shutting down of business as the direct result of a labor strike.”

More than 6,000 John Deere workers in Iowa have been on strike since Oct. 14, in the biggest labor action the state has seen in more than three decades. UAW members at Deere’s 14 manufacturing plants around the country, seven of which are in Iowa, voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s proposed contract earlier this month, citing, among other things, the elimination of current retirement benefits for new hires. Those workers would be offered a 401(k) plan instead.

In addition to the strikers in Iowa, there are approximately 4,000 striking workers at Deere’s plants in Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.

Deere filed its petition for an Ankeny injunction last Thursday, the same day a judge in Scott County issued a temporary injunction against picketing UAW members at Deere’s Davenport plant. In that case, the judge granted Deere’s request, and imposed all 10 restrictions on strikers the company requested, even though the only substantial allegations against strikers had blocked entrances, “yelled obscenities” and “aggressively waved signs.”

In her order issuing the temporary injunction, Judge Marlita Greve used the exact same language on the 10 restrictions that Deere’s attorney did in their filing.

Judge Scott was much more skeptical of Deere’s claims than Greve was. Greve, for example, ordered the UAW in Davenport to limit “the number of picketers to no more than four (4) peaceful picketers at the designated gate (two on each side).” Deere wanted Scott to order that in Ankeny.

Scott wrote in response, “The Union already has limitations in place, 10 people at the main gate and 5 at the other sites. There is no evidence to suggest that 5 or 10 picketers is any more coercive or intimidating than 4.”

If Deere has evidence that UAW strikers in Ankeny are breaking any Iowa laws or endangering public safety, the company should contact local law enforcement, the judge said. If the strikers are engaged in activities that violate federal labor laws regulating strikes as the company suggested into injunction request, Deere should file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, according to Scott.

“An injunction is ‘an extraordinary remedy that is granted with caution and only when required to avoid irreparable damage,’” Scott wrote, citing earlier court decisions. “Deere must establish all elements by clear and convincing evidence.” The company failed to do so, the judge found.

“It is unfortunate that Deere has tried to use state court intervention to disrupt and control the union’s right to engage in picketing, but we are encouraged that the court saw through that effort and ultimately protected the union’s rights,” an attorney for the UAW said in a statement following the judge’s ruling on Tuesday.

Deere & Company released a statement saying it had requested an injunction “to maintain a safe environment for our contractors and employees, including those exercising their right to strike.”

On Monday, attorneys for the UAW filed an appeal of the temporary injunction issued against Davenport strikers last week, seeking to have it vacated.

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