More than 10,000 members of the United Auto Workers union will remain on strike against John Deere, the maker of farm and construction equipment, after rank-and-file members voted down a second tentative labor agreement with the company late Tuesday.
This time, the vote was much closer, with 45 percent in favor of the proposed six-year deal and 55 percent opposed. An earlier tentative agreement reached 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 deals appeared to believe that, despite pay raises and improved benefits, the company could afford even more at a time of record profits. The strike against Deere began on October 14 at 14 facilities, mostly in the Midwest.
The new tentative agreement was reached 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 while we discuss next steps with the company,” said the UAW in a statement.
The membership approved a separate agreement with the same economic terms that covered 100 UAW members at two John Deere parts facilities in Atlanta and Denver, so the strike will only continue at the 12 other Deere locations, including all US factories.
“Through the agreements reached with the UAW, John Deere 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,” Deere’s chief administrative officer, Marc Howze, said in a statement. According to Howze, the company will move forward with the “next phase of our customer service continuation plan.”
The newly rejected deal, according to the company, included an immediate 10% wage increase and a 30% wage increase over the term of the contract, a $8,500 signing bonus, and health care coverage with no out-of-pocket costs for members for premiums, deductibles and coinsurance, improved retirement benefits and new paid parental leave.
But that wasn’t enough for the majority of the membership, especially since the union had previously accepted concessions after less lucrative deals.
“These are skilled, tedious jobs that UAW members take pride in every day,” said Mitchell Smith, a UAW regional director, on the first day of the strike. “Strikes are never easy on workers or their families, but John Deere employees believe they deserve a bigger piece of the pie, a safer workplace, and adequate benefits.”
The strike is seen as an example of rank-and-file union members taking a more hardline stance, bolstered in part by employers’ inability to fill a near record number of job openings. Some labor experts and economists point to the record rate of mostly nonunion workers quitting jobs 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 maker Kellogg after yearlong 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 fewer than the same period in 2019 prior to 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, on the other hand, tracks all sizes of strikes, and its statistics show 181 strikes through mid-October, with 38 strikes in the first two weeks of October alone, more than any other full month this year. The most recent strikes, 22 of which began in October, have involved a total of 24,000 workers, prompting the AFL-CIO to dubbed the month “Striketober.”