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Was John Deere strike a preview?
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In the wake of the five week long John Deere strike by 10,000 UAW workers in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas there is discussion about what to make of it.
I made one trip out to Moline, mostly to show my support for the strikers.
This makes me no expert.
You probably know that it took three votes to finally get a contract.
John Deere’s UAW members turned down the first tentative agreement negotiated with UAW leaders by over 90%. A second TA was rejected by 55%. The third time it was approved by what I consider a narrow 61%.
A question that is being debated by national labor observers and John Deere workers themselves is whether the strike is a preview of what is to come or unique to a moment characterized by working through a pandemic and labor shortages.
What is undeniable is that a strike like the one we just witnessed at John Deere was a once in a generation occurrence in Iowa up to now.
Since 1986 Iowa had not seen a strike like this John Deere strike, affecting so many parts of the state.
1986 was the last time the UAW called a strike against Deere.
Iowa Federation of Labor President Charlie Wishman was in kindergarten at the time.
In Ottumwa, Chris Laursen said he fell asleep Wednesday evening before the results came back. When he heard the union had ratified the agreement, he felt satisfied with the results of a fight he helped lead for six years.
A painter at John Deere Ottumwa Works and the former president of UAW Local 74, Laursen had begun fighting for a better contract in 2015, when he unsuccessfully advocated for rejecting the six-year pact approved that year. After it passed by about 180 votes, Laursen began to organize UAW members on Facebook to fight for a better offer in 2021.
He and others lobbied members to take stronger stances and show they were willing to go on strike. He advised members to save money more than a year in advance, fortifying them to handle the economic pain as well as the company could.
He advocated against the first contract offer this year. But when Deere offered 10% raises in the second agreement, he endorsed the deal. Local 74 voted to approve the contract Nov. 2.
When that contract failed on overwhelming no votes from the much larger locals in Waterloo and Dubuque, he said he began to feel frustrated with some members who he felt had gone too far. The deal was good, he said, and he worried that they had impossible expectations.
It appears many union members saw this was a moment that gave them the leverage needed to win back the concessions their leaders had made in earlier agreements.
Deere eliminated quarterly cost-of-living increases for UAW members in 2015.
The company agreed to reinstate them in the latest contract.
But Deere striker Whitney Rose Al-hameed told The Des Moines Register that the end of the strike felt especially bitter because of the sacrifices she associates with the walkout. A UAW member died when a car hit him as he crossed a darkened intersection near a Moline, Illinois, warehouse. One of Al-hameed's friends at Des Moines Works died by suicide three weeks ago. And on Thursday, the day after the contract ratification, UAW Local 450 chair Curtis Templeman, one of the union's representatives at the bargaining table, died of COVID-19.