UAW members overwhelmingly reject John Deere contract on Sunday

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United Auto Workers members overwhelmingly rejected a new six-year collective agreement with Deere & Co. on Sunday.

UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, who led negotiations with the company, said in a statement Sunday evening that 90 percent of members voted against a contract offered by both sides. He said UAW International staff, as well as the presidents and presidents of nine locals, would return to the bargaining table on Monday.

Some Iowa residents have posted on Facebook that workers will go on strike if Deere does not respond to UAW demands by the end of Wednesday.

Many workers who spoke to the Des Moines Register on Sunday said they wanted the union to go on strike. The last strike among Deere workers was in 1986, after the company laid off thousands of workers during the agricultural crisis.

Deere executives said Sunday night they would hear from the UAW.

“John Deere remains fully committed to continuing the collective bargaining process with the goal of better understanding the views of our employees,” company officials said in a statement. “In the meantime, our operations will continue as normal. “

Everyone in Iowa categorically rejected the deal, each voting more than 85% no.

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‘You deserve better’ the signs read

Throughout Sunday, members strongly protested against the proposed contract, which provided for modest wage gains and improved retirement benefits – to the detriment of future workers.

On the way to Saydel High School in Des Moines, where Deere employees in Ankeny voted, someone planted signs that read “THROW AWAY THIS PIECE OF GARBAGE” and “YOU DESERVE BETTER”.

Inside the McLeod Center at the University of Northern Iowa, Waterloo workers booed a representative from UAW International. Members yelled at him about a 2018 vote, when shop stewards approved a 31% pay hike for UAW leaders, according to videos of the event provided to the Des Moines Register.

In East Moline, according to another video, an employee asked union leaders why the UAW did not tell members to march after workers voted to authorize a strike in September.

– You didn’t hear us, she said. “Can you hear us now?” Can you hear us now? How can you stand there on your high horse and not hear us? This is not who we are. We deserve better. “

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Voting comes like Deere records record profits, powered by high corn and soybean prices. The company predicts it will earn between $ 5.7 billion and $ 5.9 billion in this fiscal year, which ends in November. That would be at least 61% higher than the company’s previous record year in 2013.

At the same time, Deere executives said in May they were struggling to hire enough workers. Durable goods manufacturing companies across the country reported a record number of job vacancies this year. The workers in these factories, in turn, are dropping out in record numbers.

What is in the contract?

The proposed contract between Deere and the UAW provides for an immediate 5% or 6% pay rise for factory workers, depending on the job. For low-end jobs like forklift operators, first-year employees would earn $ 20.10 an hour, up 96 cents from what the company paid earlier this year. For skilled and high-end labor-intensive jobs like electricians and plumbers, new workers would be paid $ 30.30 an hour, an increase of $ 1.71.

UAW-Deere Membership

Deere has also agreed to offer 3% pay increases in 2023 and 2025, as well as adding three additional holidays and two weeks of paid parental leave.

The company would change its formula for determining how much money retired workers receive under the Deere pension plan. A worker with 25 years of experience would receive about $ 100 more each month. The company would also make five lump sum payments to retired workers, ranging from $ 20,000 to $ 50,000, depending on how many years they worked for the company before retiring.

But the contract would also end the retirement program for new hires after November 1. These employees would receive matching contributions from the company under a 401 (K) plan.

Deere is no longer a “premium employer”?

Outside of Saydel High School, Marty Carter said he voted against the contract because the changes hurt future employees. The proposal reminded him of what happened between Deere and the UAW in 1997, when the company increased retirement benefits for its current employees but halved the starting salaries of new hires.

Members of United Auto Workers Local 450 wait outside Saydel High School on October 21, 2021 to vote on a proposed six-year collective agreement with Deere & Co.

“John Deere was once an employer of choice,” said Carter, a welder for the company for the past 11 years. “It used to be the best place to work. It isn’t anymore. I think of our children and our grandchildren. We need good places for them to work someday when they grow up. . ”

Shawn Fields, an assembler for 11 years, said his decision to vote against the contract was fairly straightforward, especially after the company said employees like him were essential to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We broke [expletive]”, he said.” We have crumbs. It’s all that matters.”

Diana Swartz, who has worked as an assembler for the past four years, said the contract would increase her wages by 74 cents, to $ 21.43 an hour. She said the pay didn’t compare to what she was making at her old job, working in production for Cargill for $ 24.46 an hour.

She added that her proposed small pay raise is unsatisfactory when Deere CEO John May’s salary increased 160% during the pandemic. May received $ 15.6 million in 2020, up from $ 6 million the year before.

John May was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of Deere & Co. effective May 1.  He has served as CEO of the agricultural and construction products maker in Moline, Ill., Since November 2019.

May received an additional $ 5 million in shares in 2020, as well as an additional $ 2.3 million in incentives because the company hit certain targets, like sales numbers.

“They’ve long forgotten who really does the job,” Swartz said. “John Deere has been a bully since 1997, on the playing field with the UAW. They bullied the UAW and got away with it. It’s time we stood up. We deserve more.”

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach it at tjett@registermedia.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.


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