Some 10,000 workers at farm equipment manufacturer Deere & Company will return to work following contract approval Wednesday, ending a five-week strike that has affected 14 factories, mostly in Iowa and Illinois.
The six-year contract was ratified (61% versus 39%) after workers voted against two previous agreements between the union and the company, which is known for its characteristic green and yellow John Deere products. The new contract includes language that allows the company to pay more.
Under the agreement, workers can earn 20 percent on top of their base wages when they meet productivity targets, up from 15 percent, a union spokesman said.
Other contract clauses are the same as in the proposal that workers rejected in early November, including a 10 percent wage increase this year and 5 percent each in 2023 and 2025, as well as a lump sum of 3 percent of wages. … in the remaining years of the contract.
The proposal also provided prospective employees with a traditional pension – something that current workers have, but which the union’s original agreement with the company did not take into account when hiring new employees – and established a post-retirement health care fund.
About 55 percent of workers voted to reject the second agreement between Deere and the UAW, with some complaining that the pay rise was too small for the company, which was hoping to raise nearly $ 6 billion this fiscal year. Others cited the company’s payroll, whose targets they said were too difficult for many employees.
Matt Pickrell, a longtime employee of the John Deere plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, said some workers languished in jobs where pay was nearly impossible, such as assembly line workers who were slowed down by supply chain disruptions. …
Mr Pickrell said he had a track record of securing another assignment when it became clear that there was no way to achieve a new productivity goal, but that younger workers were not.
“This creates another layer,” said Mr Pickrell, referring to a compensation system where workers with less seniority receive lower wages or benefits.
Pickrell said members of the union bargaining team told workers in Ottumwa on Wednesday morning that the company is committed to adjusting its productivity plan to better accommodate circumstances beyond the control of the worker.
After workers rejected the second agreement, Deere said its offer was as generous as the company could afford and that it has no plans to return to the negotiating table. But the two sides had further discussions and reached a third agreement on Friday that proposed changes to the stimulus plan.
The strike was part of a spike in work stoppages in October, but since then some employers have avoided potentially major strikes by last-minute deals with unions, including health care provider Kaiser Permanente and a Hollywood studio group.
The willingness of workers to vote against the two bids for significant wage increases reflected the strength of their bargaining power as the country faces a labor shortage, as well as their particular leverage over Deere.
While Deere has claimed throughout the strike that it continues to operate its factories with the help of hired employees, Larry Cohen, the former president of America’s Communications Workers, said in an interview this month that he is deeply skeptical that the company can avoid serious impact on production.
He said this reflects an advantage for employees who bargain company-wide, reminiscent of an approach that is common in Europe and South America but relatively rare in the United States.
“There was an opportunity – we can push this as far as we can because the risks are low, they don’t produce anything,” said Mr. Cohen, guiding the workers’ mindset.
But some workers said they were worried that public opinion might start rebelling against them if they waived a contract that would provide for substantial improvements.
“If we gave it up, what would it look like to the public?” said Chris Laursen, another Deere worker in Ottumwe, who opposed the original agreement just before the second vote.
“If we take what we have now, it will be a worthy victory for the American labor movement,” added Mr Laursen. “Hopefully this will help empower workers.”