Union, John Deere Reach Tentative Deal That Could End Strike

Workers voted down the last agreement by an overwhelming margin.
John Deere workers on the picket line in Iowa.
John Deere workers on the picket line in Iowa.
Scott Olson via Getty Images

John Deere and the United Auto Workers union said Saturday that they had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that could bring a massive strike to an end.

The union did not release details of the deal and said the strike would continue while members determined whether or not to ratify it. Chuck Browning, a vice president for the UAW, said in a statement that the deal included “enhanced economic gains and continues to provide the highest quality healthcare benefits in the industry.”

A spokesperson for John Deere confirmed that a tentative agreement had been reached.

Roughly 10,000 workers at 14 facilities went on strike Oct. 14 after rejecting a deal reached between the company and the union’s bargaining team. A whopping 90% of the membership had voted against ratifying the contract, sending the union back to the bargaining table.

Workers could vote down the contract yet again, opting to continue the work stoppage in hopes of a better deal. Browning’s statement sounded an optimistic note that the latest deal would be more acceptable.

“The negotiators focused on improving the areas of concern identified by our members during our last ratification process,” he said.

A vote is likely to happen sometime in the coming days, after the union’s local affiliates have walked members through the details of the agreement.

Workers cited a number of concerns over the last tentative six-year deal reached between the union and the company. The annual wage increases averaged around 2%, which would be well below the current rate of inflation, and the company wanted to phase out defined-benefit pensions for new hires, among other sticking points.

Workers at Deere have said they want to eliminate the “two-tier” compensation system that was established in 1997 and gives newer employees lesser benefits than their legacy counterparts. Deere’s proposal to eliminate pensions moving forward would have created yet another tier within the workforce.

The overwhelming vote against ratifying that contract was a repudiation by workers of both the company and the UAW, which has suffered from an embarrassing corruption scandal that’s led to more than a dozen guilty pleas by union officials.

Deere workers had a number of factors in their favor that played into the decision to strike. The company has enjoyed robust sales due to high agricultural commodity prices and strong demand for farm and construction equipment. Deere had already set record annual profits in the first three quarters of the year. A prolonged strike would hurt the company’s ability to capitalize on a favorable market.

Meanwhile, many employers like Deere are having a hard time retaining workers in a tighter-than-expected labor market during this part of the pandemic.

The strike at Deere is the largest in the U.S. private sector since General Motors workers walked off the job in 2019.