Roughly 10,000 workers at agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere went on strike at midnight Wednesday evening, beginning one of the largest U.S. work stoppages in recent years.
The strike will affect production at 14 facilities in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.
The workers had overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement negotiated between Deere and their union, the United Auto Workers. The strike will send both parties back to the bargaining table to find a resolution.
The UAW said members had set up picket lines outside Deere plants.
“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” Chuck Browning, the director of the UAW’s Agricultural Implement Department, said in a statement. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”
The last time the UAW struck against Deere was 1986.
Deere managers had spent the days leading up to the strike trying to sell workers on the benefits of the contract proposal. The deal would have kept in place workers’ current health care plan that does not require premiums, but the total pay raise offered was 11% over six years, and the contract would have assured new workers received lesser retirement benefits than current employees, according to details reported by Labor Notes.
Many Deere workers had hoped to eliminate the “two-tier” system established in 1997, which reduced pension and health retirement benefits for those hired thereafter. Instead, the latest Deere proposal would expand on that system by eliminating defined-benefit pensions altogether for new hires moving forward.
“The last time the UAW struck against John Deere was 1986.”
Labor Notes reported that the offer “doesn’t repair the decades-long grievances that workers hold against Deere.” One local union leader told the outlet that “the membership is not at all in the mood for another concessionary contract.”
Brad Morris, Deere’s vice president of labor relations, said in a statement Thursday morning that the company would work “day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike.” He also said the company would “keep our operations running” during the work stoppage.
“We are determined to reach an agreement with the UAW that would put every employee in a better economic position and continue to make them the highest paid employees in the agriculture and construction industries,” he said.
UAW Vice President Chuck Browning said Sunday that 90% of Deere workers disapproved of the contract proposal in a ratification vote, sending the union back to the table to get more from the company. Facebook pages run by the union’s local affiliates filled with comments from members who were frustrated with both the company and the union and appeared eager to strike.
“NO EXTENSIONS!!!!” read one typical comment. “It’s our time to make decent money and have a good contract.”
The current six-year collective bargaining agreement expired Oct. 1 but the union and Deere agreed to extend it while they negotiated further. The UAW has represented production workers at the company for nearly 80 years.
Workers expect more in part because the company has been doing so well, boosted by high demand for farm equipment. The company reported a record $1.79 billion in profits for the second quarter of 2021, topping the record set the previous quarter with $1.22 billion.
The Deere strike is one in a series of major work stoppages to hit the U.S. private sector recently, reflecting how unsatisfied unionized workers are with what their employers are offering. Workers at Frito-Lay, Nabisco and Kellogg’s all went on strike to pressure their companies into offering more.
Meanwhile, some 60,000 film and TV workers have authorized a strike against the studios, while another 21,000 nurses and other health care workers have authorized one against Kaiser Permanente.
The film workers have set a strike deadline of Oct. 18. If they end up walking off the job, it would be the largest private sector strike in the U.S. since 2007.
This story has been updated with a statement from John Deere.