Thousands of John Deere workers strike, and Iowa Republican leaders ‘don’t have anything to say about it’

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

More than 6,000 John Deere workers in Iowa went on strike at midnight on Thursday, in the biggest labor action the state has seen in more than three decades. Contract negotiations between the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) — which represents Deere workers at its 14 plants across Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia — and Deere executives have been in the news for more than a month, and on Sunday union members overwhelmingly voted against the contract offer proposed by Deere, knowing that would lead to a strike.

Altogether, there are over 10,000 workers on strike against Deere. But during a news conference held 14 hours after the strike began on Thursday, Iowa’s senior U.S. senator claimed he had no idea there was a strike going on, or that there was any disagreement between workers and management at Deere.

Asked by Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters if he had any message for the string workers, Sen. Chuck Grassley seemed completely unprepared for the question.

“Well, obviously they’re exercising their right to do that of collective bargaining [sic],” Grassley said. “And that’s a decision those workers have made. And under the laws we have to respect it.”

“I don’t have anything to say about it, because I don’t know the issues that are at stake. And I didn’t even know they were in [sic] strike, except you told me, but John Deere workers don’t go on strike very often. So, there must be a great deal of dissatisfaction between management and the unions there and the workers there.”

As vague as Grassley’s comment was, he was still the only prominent Republican elected official in Iowa to make a public statement about the strike. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s three Republican members of Congress — Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra — and Sen. Joni Ernst were all silent.

It’s worth noting that Deere’s political action committee, Deere & Company PAC, has already made the maximum annual donation of $5,000 this year to the campaigns of Hinson, Miller-Meeks, Feenstra and Grassley, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Iowa’s leading Democrats, on the other hand, issued statements in support of the striking workers well before Grassley’s 4 p.m. news conference on Thursday. Laura Belin has compiled a comprehensive list of the statements at Bleeding Heartland.

On Friday morning, Christina Bohannan, who represents Iowa City in Iowa House and is running for Congress in the 2nd District, went down to Ottumwa to show support for the strike and meet with workers on the picket line.

The contract Deere offered UAW members would have raised pay by 5 or 6 percent, depending on the worker’s position, provided 3 percent pay increases in 2023 and 2025, and increased pension payments for established workers. But it also would have eliminated pension for new hires, replacing the pension system with a 401(k) plan.

Deere is projected to earn almost $6 billion in profits this year, which will far exceed the record-setting $3.5 billion in profits it had in 2013.

More than 90 percent of the UAW workers at Deere’s 14 plants participated in the vote on Sunday night, and 90 percent of them voted to reject the proposed contract.

The last time Deere workers went on strike was August 1986. That strike lasted five months.

On Friday, Grassley tweeted a statement about the strike.

It is true that Grassley was a member of the International Association of Machinists from 1962 to 1971, when he did factory work. The senior senator brings up his one-time union affiliation every time he runs for reelection. During his last campaign in 2016, it was even mentioned in passing in a commercial that showed him riding a John Deere lawnmower.

Video still from 2016 Chuck Grassley campaign commercial, “CHUCK.”

Of course, Grassley dropped his union membership half a century ago, so it is probably more relevant to consider what he has done since he went to Washington 1975.

The AFL-CIO examined Grassley’s voting record in the Senate, where he has served for 40 years, following his six years in the U.S. House. The union found that throughout his Senate career, Grassley has only voted in favor of organized labor’s priorities 15 percent of the time.

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