John Deere canceled Iowa employees’ shifts Wednesday a possible strike looms, workers said – Des Moines Register

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With the threat of a United Auto Workers strike looming, Deere & Co. managers told employees at factories across Iowa not to come in Wednesday, workers told the Des Moines Register.

With a midnight deadline from the union for an agreement, they said managers ordered third-shift employees in Waterloo not to report to work at their usual 11 p.m. start time. Chris Laursen, a painter at the Ottumwa plant, said the company told second-shift employees not to come in Wednesday, and employees at the company’s Des Moines Works plant in Ankeny said their 3:30 p.m. shifts also were canceled.

UAW International spokesperson Brian Rothenberg said union officials had received no formal notification about the cancelled shifts and could not confirm that the company had canceled them.

Workers voted overwhelmingly Sunday to reject a proposed pact Deere reached with UAW leaders, and the UAW told Deere a strike would begin Thursday if the two sides could not reach a new, tentative agreement.

Deere officials declined to comment Wednesday. 

After Sunday’s vote, the company issued a statement saying, “John Deere remains fully committed to continuing the collective bargaining process in an effort to better understand our employees’ viewpoints. In the meantime, our operations will continue as normal.”

In addition to plants in Ankeny, Ottumwa and Waterloo, the UAW represents Deere workers in Davenport and Dubuque, as well as in Illinois and Kansas. The Waterloo Works, with about 3,000 members, is Deere’s largest. The company has more than 6,000 employees across Iowa, making it one of the state’s largest industrial employers.

Strike would be first against Deere since 1986

UAW Local 450, which represents Deere’s Ankeny workers, posted a strike schedule on its Facebook page, showing that, if a strike begins workers will begin picketing outside the factory early Thursday. The union is also planning to picket Moline, Illinois-based Deere’s plants 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the two sides reach an agreement.

About 10,100 employees in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas have been working under a Deere contract that expires Friday.

Workers have not gone on strike against Deere since 1986. That year, it took 163 days for the two sides to reach a settlement.

This year, the proposed six-year contract Deere workers rejected Sunday would have raised wages and bolstered current employees’ retirement payments while ending traditional pensions for new hires. 

After 90% of members voted against the contract, UAW officials said the union’s team would negotiate with Deere on a second proposal. There was no word Wednesday on the progress of any talks.

More: After rejecting contract, Iowa Deere employees say they’re ready to walk as strike deadline looms

Employees said signs of the looming strike were apparent Wednesday at plants around Iowa.

Jimmy Hyde, a tool and die maker at Deere’s Tractor, Cab & Assembly Operations plant in Waterloo, said managers told employees to clean out their lockers and remove their locks from their cabinets and toolboxes. A worker sent the Register a photo showing yellow tape reading “Closed” across a sign outside one Waterloo plant.

“It’s looking like we won’t be here (Thursday),” Hyde said.

Dave Schmelzer, a quality control inspector at the company’s Milan, Illinois, warehouse, said managers read a list of talking points to employees Wednesday. Among Deere’s contentions in the document, provided to the Register: Its wages are “the best in the industry” and the rejected agreement didn’t ask employees to make concessions.

“Our products are the best,” the memo reads. “Our people are the best. And our compensation is the best … and it was going get even better.”

Other workers provided the Register a photo of a flyer they said plant managers distributed Tuesday, touting the positives of the contract that workers rejected. The new six-year agreement would have immediately raised wages by 5% or 6%, depending on position. It also would have provided 3% raises in 2023 and 2025.

The company would have changed its pension plan formula  to give workers with 25 years of experience about $100 extra every month when they retire. Deere also planned to give retirees annual lump sum payments of between $20,000 and $50,000 for five years, depending on how long employees had worked for the company.

At the same time, Deere would have ended its pension plan under the contract for any employee hired after Nov. 1, instead offering an enhanced 401k program.

The negotiations come as Deere is earning record profits this fiscal year, which ends in November. The company’s CEO, John May, received $15.6 million in 2020, a 160% raise from 2019 after Deere hit certain performance targets.

Like many manufacturers, Deere is struggling to hire enough workers and obtain enough parts to fill orders. During an investor call in August, Chief Financial Officer Ryan Campbell said that the company had already filled its available production slots for planters and sprayers through the end of fiscal year 2022 — 13 months from now.

Some employees have told the Register they are especially motivated to go on strike after working through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the company owed them. 

“The whole nation’s going to be watching us,” Laursen, the Ottumwa plant employee, told the Register on Monday. “If we take a stand here for ourselves, our families, for basic human prosperity, it’s going to make a difference for the whole manufacturing industry. Let’s do it. Let’s not be intimidated.”

More: With current contract expiring Friday, UAW members reject new agreement with John Deere

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.

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John Deere canceled Iowa employees’ shifts Wednesday a possible strike looms, workers said – Des Moines Register

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