More than 10,000 production and warehouse workers at 14 John Deere plants in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia walked off the job at midnight, in the latest in awave of industrial unrestin the US.
The workers, represented by nine locals with the United Auto Workers (UAW), voted 99% in favor of a strike authorization in September after receiving the initial six-year contract proposal from John Deere.
On 10 October, workers voted overwhelmingly by 90% to reject the tentative contract agreement offered by John Deere.
David Schmelzer, a quality control inspector at John Deere in Milan, Illinois for 24 years and former chairman of UAW Local 79, said that in 1997 workers took several concessions from John Deere in contract negotiations at the time, which included creating a two-tier system of employees, with workers hired after 1997 receiving fewer benefits.
“We sacrificed, and we want that back now,” said Schmelzer. “Workers in this country need to understand that we have a considerable amount of power in this country, if we choose to utilize it, and there’s no reason why we should stand back and let these companies just completely exploit our labor for billions of dollars and fight tooth and nail not to give us anything.”
John Deere has reported record profits in 2021, with a $4.7bn profit in the first three quarters of this year, compared to their previous record profit year of $3.5bn in 2013. The company spent over $1.7bn on stock buybacks in the first nine months and paid out $761m in dividends to shareholders.
“A lot of what’s been going on in the country over the last couple of years has definitely made people more aware of the disparity between corporate and income inequality. Just massive amounts of corporate greed,” added Schmelzer. “The majority of people want a bigger share of the success of this company, the success that we’ve been a major part of.”