John Deere Workers Sure Look Like They’re About to Go on Strike

John Deere Workers Sure Look Like They’re About to Go on Strike
Photo: Gene Sweeney Jr. / Stringer, Getty Images

John Deere workers are inching precipitously close to a strike after they overwhelmingly voted to reject a new six-year collective bargaining agreement that had been recommended by the union representing them, the United Auto Workers (UAW).

On Sunday, 90 per cent of UAW voting members shot down the new agreement, which had been reached between the union and the tractor manufacturing company and had offered modest wage increases and enhanced retirement benefits that would have come at the expense of new hires. According to the Des Moines Register, pro-strike sentiment has been strong on the ground in Iowa, where union members have erected signs reading “REJECT THIS PIECE OF TRASH” and “YOU DESERVE BETTER.” According to a dispatch from Labour Notes, several union members also showed up to local meetings sporting “F*** No” t-shirts, and at least one member took up the microphone to say that the only thing the agreement was good for was “wiping my arse.”

Now, unless an agreement is reached by the new strike deadline imposed by the UAW of 11:59pm on Wednesday, October 13, more than 10,000 Deere workers at nine locals in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas are set to walk off the job in what would amount to the largest private-sector strike since the 40-day walkout staged by UAW workers employed by GM in 2019.

Officials at John Deere have, thus far, signalled a willingness to keep negotiations going, telling the Register in a statement that the company “remains fully committed to continuing the collective bargaining process in an effort to better understand our employees’ viewpoints,” and saying that operations “will continue as normal” in the meantime. But according to internal company emails reviewed by Labour Notes, the company also seems to be increasingly looking to hire white-collar workers in an active effort to “cast a broader net to fill critical factory positions in the case of a work stoppage.”

In addition to setting itself up for one of the biggest labour showdowns in recent memory during a year that has already been rife with worker unrest, labour shortages, and strike efforts, John Deere has also recently emerged as a critical battleground for national right-to-repair laws. Because of its refusal to allow farmworkers to repair their own equipment, the company is frequently seen as being at the heart of the struggle against manufacturing repair monopolies and was referenced as such by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during his doomed campaign for the presidency in 2019.

“In rural America today, farmers can’t even repair their own tractors or other equipment because of the greed of companies like John Deere,” Sanders wrote at the time, vowing that if he became president, he would “pass a national right-to-repair law that gives every farmer in America full rights over the machinery they buy.”

Under the administration of President Joe Biden, right-to-repair has seen several modest victories recently, including a sweeping executive order that directed the Federal Trade Commission to draft regulations that limit the ability of companies like Deere to restrict independent repairs of their products.