John Deere could have offered workers more

Only a week after United Auto Workers members ratified a new six-year contract with John Deere, the company announced record profits of $5.96 billion during the fiscal year that ended on November 1.

Tyler Jett reported for the Des Moines Register on November 24,

The company announced Wednesday that the new contract with the UAW will cost $250 million to $300 million. J.P. Morgan analyst Ann Duignan wrote in a note that she expects Deere to increase prices by 1.5% to offset its higher pay to workers.

That cost estimate appears to cover the immediate 10 percent raises and $8,500 ratification bonuses for each of Deere’s approximately 10,000 employees represented by UAW. The range of $250 million to $300 million would work out to between 4 percent and 5 percent of the company’s profits for the fiscal year that just ended.

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What UAW members gained with five-week strike

Iowa’s largest strike in decades is over after nearly five weeks. About 10,000 United Auto Workers members, including nearly 7,000 in Iowa, ratified the latest tentative agreement with John Deere by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent on November 17.

The offer was only marginally different from the agreement UAW members voted down on November 2 by 55 percent to 45 percent. But many workers appear to have been convinced that this was truly Deere’s “last, best and final” offer, as management repeatedly claimed. Some local leaders warned the company might not come back to the negotiating table, or could hire strikebreakers if the UAW rejected the offer.

The last time John Deere employees went on strike in 1986, it took more than five months to resolve the impasse. Hundreds of UAW members who voted no in early November were unwilling to roll the dice on going into the winter receiving strike pay of only $275 a week, with no guarantee the final deal will be better than today’s tentative agreement. Tyler Jett reported for the Des Moines Register that support for the tentative agreement rose among UAW members at all five Deere facilities in Iowa.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the hugely profitable equipment manufacturer could have offered its workforce more generous terms. On the other hand, the new contract improves greatly on the company’s first offer in October. By going on strike, the UAW obtained the following:

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UAW members vote down latest John Deere offer

About 10,000 United Auto Workers members employed by John Deere remain on strike after rejecting the second tentative agreement negotiated this fall. Pickets will continue around the clock at the equipment manufacturer’s facilities, including five plants in Iowa employing about 7,000 people.

Whereas around 90 percent of workers rejected Deere’s first proposal, the November 2 vote was much closer: about 55 percent against and 45 percent for accepting the deal. Turnout was high at roughly 90 percent of the unionized workforce.

The Des Moines Register’s Tyler Jett reported that 71 percent of UAW members in Waterloo (the company’s largest factory) opposed the agreement, and 64 percent voted no in Dubuque. UAW members in Ottumwa and Davenport voted for the proposal by wide margins, while workers in Ankeny split 51 percent yes and 49 percent no.

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John Deere strike highlights many U.S. policy deficiencies

Glenn Hurst is a family physician in southwest Iowa and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

The United Auto Workers strike at John Deere is about fair wages and the value of work, but also about the corruption of our corporate welfare system and the devaluing of American lives. Sadly, the corporate value of workers mirrors the values of our own government.

The shift of the distribution of wealth in this country from the time of Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics clearly demonstrates how that policy failed Americans. Wealth consolidated at the top, and a minuscule portion barely trickled down to just the highest 10 percent of earners.

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On picket line, Tom Vilsack says Deere workers deserve "fair deal"

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stopped by the United Auto Workers picket line in Ankeny on October 20 to express support for John Deere workers who have been on strike since October 14. He is the first cabinet secretary in recent memory to join union members on a picket line.

While speaking to the workers, Vilsack recalled how important the UAW’s support was to his first gubernatorial bid in 1998. Backing from organized labor helped him win the Democratic primary by less than a 3-point margin. He then came from behind to defeat Republican nominee Jim Ross Lightfoot by a little less than 6 points in the general election. “You don’t forget the people who gave you an opportunity to serve. You just don’t.”

Regarding the issues that prompted the strike, Vilsack told the UAW members,

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"This isn't just about us": The UAW view of John Deere strike

On the fourth day of Iowa’s largest strike in decades, George Clark of Podcast by George and I planned to interview some John Deere workers on the picket line in Ankeny. We learned that United Auto Workers, which represents some 10,000 Deere employees on strike, is discouraging rank and file members from speaking to the media.

However, JD Neal was authorized to talk with us outside the UAW hall in Des Moines. Neal has worked at the Deere plant in Ankeny for seventeen years and is among the leaders of the UAW Local 450.

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