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Thousands of John Deere workers, including in Illinois, strike after rejecting a contract offer

John Deere workers walked off the job after the United Auto Workers union failed to negotiate a six-year contract with the tractor maker.

More than 10,000 John Deere workers at plants in Iowa, Kansas and Illinois and distribution centers in Georgia and Colorado went on strike Thursday after their union contract ran out at midnight.

The United Auto Workers union and Deere failed to reach terms on a new six-year contract. Rank-and-file workers had earlier rejected an offer promising up to 6% raises and cost-of-living increases.

That deal union members turned down also promised higher payments for retired workers on the pension plan, but it would have ended pensions for employees hired after Nov. 1.

“Pickets have been set up and our members are organized and ready to hold out and fight for a contract they believe meets their needs,” Ron McInroy, director of the UAW region that includes the striking workers, says in a statement. “Strikes are not easy, but some things are worth fighting for.”

Brad Morris, Deere’s labor relations vice president, issued a statement saying that Deere is determined to work with the union to “put every employee in a better economic position.”

Picket lines in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas represent one of the nation’s largest private industry strikes since the UAW mobilized against General Motors in 2019. Those John Deere workers join Kellogg employees and theater staff who are mounting their own strikes to gain leverage in contract talks.

Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor and professor at the City University of New York, says public indignation at the disconnect between a company’s big profits and worker compensation has set the stage for union action.

The national labor shortage and supply chain issues — which John Deere officials say have already held the company back from meeting demand — give workers more leverage. And with post-harvest purchases looming, Milkman says the company has a lot to lose.

“A strike is the last thing they need,” she says. “The workers are recognizing they have a little leverage now. This is not an easy time for labor unions. But relative to the past, I think it’s a time where there is some opportunity for progress.”

The tractor maker’s workers last went on strike in 1986. That lasted for 163 days and cost the company more than $100 million.

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Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

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