MOLYN, IL (AP) – More than 10,000 Deere & Co. workers went on strike on Thursday, marking the first major strike at the agricultural machinery giant in more than three decades.
The union said its members will leave work if no agreement is reached by 11:59 pm Wednesday. An overwhelming majority of unions turned down a contract offer earlier this week that would provide a 5 percent rise for some workers and 6 percent for others at an Illinois company known for its green tractors.
Deere’s high-profile manufacturing worker will earn just over $ 30 an hour under the deal, which the workers rejected, and in five years time, according to the proposal summary, it will rise to $ 31.84.
“Nearly a million retirees and active UAW members stand in solidarity with striking UAW members at John Deere,” said UAW President Ray Curry.
Brad Morris, Vice President of Labor Relations, Deere, said in a statement that the company is “committed to a positive outcome for our people, our communities and everyone involved.” He said Deere wants an agreement that will improve the economic well-being of all employees.
“We will continue to work day and night to understand the priorities of our employees and resolve this strike, as well as continue our work for the benefit of everyone we serve,” said Morris.
Thirty-five years have passed since Deere’s last major strike, but workers have been encouraged to demand more this year after a long day of work during the pandemic and as companies face a labor shortage.
“Our John Deere employees are on strike to earn a living, retire with dignity and establish fair work practices,” said Chuck Browning, vice president and director of the UAW’s Agricultural Equipment Department. “We continue to bargain until the goals of our members are achieved.”
About 15 minutes after the strike deadline, a handful of workers began to form a picket line outside the company’s plant in Milan, a city in western Illinois, near the Iowa border.
The union left behind a metal barrel and wood to keep workers warm in preparation for the demonstration, which is expected to continue 24 hours a day, according to the Quad-City Times. At several other Deere plants, workers planned to start picketing on Thursday morning, when the first shift would normally arrive.
Chris Laursen, who works as an artist at Deere, told the Des Moines Register ahead of the strike that it could make a big difference.
“The whole nation will be watching us,” Laursen told the newspaper. “If we stand here to protect ourselves, our families, for the sake of the elementary prosperity of mankind, it will have a meaning for the entire manufacturing industry. Let’s do it. Let’s not be scared. “
Earlier this year, another group of workers, represented by the UAW, went on strike at the Volvo Trucks plant in Virginia and received higher wages and lower medical services after rejecting three preliminary contract offers.
The contracts discussed cover 14 Deere plants in the United States, including seven in Iowa, four in Illinois, and one each in Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.
Contract negotiations at the Moline, Illinois-based company are ongoing as Deere expects to post record profits of $ 5.7 billion to $ 5.9 billion this year. The company reported strong sales of its agricultural and construction equipment this year.
Deere manufacturing plants make an important contribution to the economy, so local authorities hope any strike will be short-lived.
“We definitely want our economy to stabilize and grow after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayor Molina Sangeeta Rajapati told Quad-City Times. “I hope these parties come to a resolution soon.”