10,000 workers at agricultural equipment manufacturing company John Deere hit the picket lines on October 14th, triggering the largest work stoppage yet in a wave of strikes that has symbolized a new activist militancy amongst workers in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.
John Deere, which made a net income of $2.75 billion in fiscal year 2020, gave its CEO a 160% salary increase during the pandemic. At the same time, the company offers new workers a starting wage of just $19.14 an hour, with smaller pensions and health care benefits as compared to those received by Deere employees who joined the company before 1997.
In a pro-labor economy in which employers are desperate to hire new workers — and right in the middle of peak agricultural season, when Deere needs its workers to be maximally productive in order to satisfy farmers’ increased demand for agricultural equipment — Deere employees say the company’s new contract offer, which would provide very small raises, is not enough.
“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” said Chuck Browning, Vice President and director of the UAW’s Agricultural Implement Department, in a statement. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”
According to reporting by Jonah Furman of Labor Notes, John Deere workers were outraged by the first offer from Deere that UAW leadership brought to them in early September. After weeks of further negotiations between Deere management and the UAW, the workers overwhelmingly voted down a new tentative agreement on October 10th. Deere failed to put a better offer on the table before UAW’s strike deadline of midnight central time on October 14th, leading to the mass walk out.
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