John Deere Union Workers Authorize Strike

The last time John Deere workers initiated a strike was 35 years ago. It lasted 163 days and cost the company $100 million dollars.

Update: Deere & Co. and the United Auto Workers had announced a new, tentative six-year-collective bargaining agreement, according to the Des Moines Register. However, on Sunday, workers rejected the offer and negotiators are trying to work out a new deal to cover more than 10,000 workers at 14 plants. If a deal isn't reached by Wednesday night, workers will strike. 

Perhaps 2021 could be considered the year where companies raking in record profits simultaneously grapple with worker dissatisfaction. We saw it with Volvo Trucks, Frito-Lay and Nabisco earlier this year -- household names whose dirty laundry hit the news cycle as employees demonstrated their frustration.

Here’s another one: the biggest brand in agricultural equipment, John Deere, is seeing some trouble brewing among its UAW member workforce, a group that’s reportedly voted to authorize a strike, if necessary.

Now voting to authorize doesn’t guarantee a strike occurs. John Deere’s contract with its union workers expired at the end of September, at which point, the sides agreed almost immediately to extend the prior collective bargaining agreement for another 15 days so negotiations could continue.

But, there’s still a lot to sort out. According to the Des Moines register, the previous six-year contract, which applies to more than 10,000 Deere workers, was negotiated during a time when the workers didn’t have the kind of leverage they may have today. Back then, Deere was flush with inventory as farmers struggled and the company’s profits dipped 45 percent over a two year period.

Fast forward to 2021, and Deere’s first three quarters of 2021 have already beaten its the record-year profit set in 2013. And the Des Moines Register says workers are looking for their fair share, especially since some believe the wages negotiation in the last contract weren’t ideal to begin with.

Besides Deere’s immense sales numbers weighing on the discussions are worker shortages, apparently a new problem from Deere whose name recognition, union pay and benefits have always provided a large enough pool. But it’s 2021 now, and some former Deere workers told the Register that they wouldn’t return due to previous layoffs relating to the cyclical nature of a business highly dependent on agriculture trends and crop pricing.

These pressures mean a strike, if it were to come down to it, would be a difficult headwind for Deere when uptime is everything. Meanwhile, reports say some workers have been picketing outside of the Deere plants as talks continue, focusing on issues like health care and disability, co-pays, wages and seniority provisions.

The last time John Deere workers initiated a strike was 35 years ago. It lasted 163 days and cost the company $100 million dollars.

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