More than 10,000 United Auto Workers union members will remain on strike against John Deere, the maker of farm and construction jobs equipment after rank-and-file members voted rejected a second tentative labor agreement with the firm late Tuesday.
This time, the vote was much tighter, with 45 percent supporting the proposed six-year contract and 55 percent opposing. An earlier tentative agreement signed on October 1 was rejected by 90% of members in a ratification vote held on October 10.
Many of those who voted against the two rejected packages appeared to believe that, despite pay raises and increased perks, the corporation could afford even more at a time of record earnings. The walkout against Deere jobs began on October 14 at 14 facilities, mainly in the Midwest.
The new preliminary agreement was signed on Saturday, but the membership remained on strike while the ratification vote was held. The union issued only a brief statement in response to the latest rejection by its members. “The strike against John Deere and company will continue as we discuss next steps with the company,” the UAW statement said.
The membership adopted a separate agreement covering 100 UAW members at two John Deere parts facilities in Atlanta and Denver with the same economic parameters, so the strike will only continue at the 12 other Deere locations, including all of its US plants.
“Through the agreements reached with the UAW, John Deere (DE) would have invested an additional $3.5 billion in our employees, and by extension, our communities, to significantly enhance wages and benefits that were already the best and most comprehensive in our industries,” said Marc Howze, Deere’s chief administrative officer, in a statement. Howze said the company will proceed with the “next phase of our customer service continuation plan.”
The newly rejected contract included a 10% immediate wage increase and a 30% wage increase over the term of the contract, an $8,500 signing bonus, health care coverage with no out-of-pocket costs for premiums, deductibles, or coinsurance, improved retirement benefits, and new paid parental leave, according to the company.
But that wasn’t enough for a majority of the membership, especially since the union had accepted concessions after less lucrative deals in the past.
“These are skilled, tedious jobs that UAW members take pride in every day,” said Mitchell Smith, a regional director for the UAW, on the day the strike started. “Strikes are never easy on workers or their families, but John Deere workers believe they deserve a better share of the pie, a safer workplace and adequate benefits.”
The walkout is seen as an example of rank-and-file union members taking a more hardline posture, bolstered in part by employers’ inability to fill a near-record number of job opportunities. Some labor experts and economists point to the high number of primarily nonunion workers abandoning employment across the country as evidence that workers are demanding more from their employers and jobs than in the past.
In addition, 1,400 workers are on strike against cereal giant Kellogg (K) after year-long negotiations between the union and management fell through. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there have been only a dozen strikes this year through September, which is lower than the same period in 2019 before the pandemic. However, the BLS only counts strikes with 1,000 or more participants. Many strikes involve hundreds, not thousands, of workers, and in some cases, as few as 100.
Cornell University, however, tracks strikes of all sizes, and its stats show 181 strikes through mid-October, with 38 strikes just in the first two weeks of October, more than any other full month so far this year. Those most recent strikes, 22 of which started in October, involved 24,000 workers in total, prompting the AFL-CIO to dub the month “Striketober.”