More than 10,000 members of the United Auto Workers union will stay on strike against farm and construction equipment maker John Deere after rank-and-file members voted down a second tentative labor deal with the company late Tuesday.
The vote was much closer this time, with 45% voting in favor of the proposed six-year deal and 55% opposed. An earlier tentative agreement reached on October 1 was rejected by 90% of membership in a ratification vote concluded on October 10.
Many of those voting against the two rejected deals apparently felt that despite pay increases and improved benefits being offered, that the company could afford even more at a time of record profits. The strike against Deere at 14 facilities, mostly in the Midwest, began on October 14.
The new tentative deal was reached this past Saturday, but membership stayed on strike while the ratification vote was held. The union had only a short comment on the newest 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.
A separate agreement with the same economic terms that covered 100 UAW members at two John Deere parts facilities in Atlanta and Denver was approved by membership, so the strike will only continue at the 12 other Deere locations, including all of its 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,” 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 company said the newly rejected deal included an immediate 10% wage increase and 30% wage increases over the term of contract, an $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 a majority of 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 strike is seen an an example of a more hard-line stance by rank-and-file union members, partly emboldened by employers having trouble finding the workers 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 nationwide as a sign of workers demanding more from their employers and their jobs than they have in the past.
There are also 1,400 workers on strike against cereal maker Kellogg (K) after yearlong negotiations between union and management broke down. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows only a dozen strikes through September this year, fewer than in the same period of 2019 ahead of the pandemic. But the BLS counts only strikes with 1,000 or more participants. Many strikes involve hundreds, not thousands of workers, sometimes even less than 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, involve 24,000 workers in total, prompting the AFL-CIO to dub the month “Striketober.”