Tension relieved: John Deere strike ends after five grueling weeks

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Mukul Kulkarni

No UAW Strikers are present at their picket line at the Part Distribution Center entrance in Milan now that the strike is over.

Mukul Kulkarni, Copy Editor

On Nov. 17, 2021, both the United Auto Workers (UAW) and John Deere reached an agreement on a new employment contract, ending a stressful five-week strike against John Deere. 

The new contract will last six years, including a $8,500 sign-on bonus as well as a 20% increase in wages over the lifetime of the contract. A new health insurance program where workers do not have to pay premiums is also included. As a result, the new contract received 61% voter approval.

This is the third contract that John Deere offered. The previous two contracts were denied approval by the UAW after they failed to meet their demands and needs, which set off the strike on Oct. 14, 2021. 

Although the strike was more than a month long, it was short-lived compared to the five-month long John Deere strike beginning Aug. 23,1986. In this strike, the UAW had declared a lockout from John Deere where workers also fought for higher wages, retirement benefits and job security. Negotiations took months and the strike even led into February of 1987. In comparison, this strike’s negotiations took only weeks. 

In comparison to the first strike, the current one conjured an abundance of community support. According to a Des Moines Register poll, 58% of Iowan adults say they mostly side with Deere workers, 16% of respondents say they mostly side with the employers, 19% are unsure and 7% support neither group.

Although this strike was ultimately successful, it had a detrimental impact on the UAW, John Deere and the employees that were not on strike. 

Unfortunately, during the strike, one UAW member attempting to cross the road to join strikers was struck by an oncoming vehicle and died. The 56-year-old union member was a 15-year employee at the Milan John Deere Parts Distribution Plant in Moline, Illinois.

As there were fewer employees in charge of distributing parts to customers and dealerships, exactly 80% of Deere dealers reported some impact on their parts and service revenue opportunities since the strike began. 

Due to the worker shortage, current employees had to change their dynamics and take over the jobs of the workers. Senior Tarun Vedula shared how this change impacted his family. “The strike has impacted my family personally as my dad works at John Deere and had to work at the factory,” Vedula said. “Luckily, he didn’t work night shifts but he would still come home very late and be extremely tired every day. He even had to work in Atlanta for a little over a month due to the need for workers at their facility.”

Nonetheless, both parties are excited and relieved the strike is over. “I’m pleased our highly skilled employees are back to work,” said CEO John May. “Through our new collective bargaining agreements, we’re giving employees the opportunity to earn wages and benefits that are the best in our industries and are groundbreaking in many ways.” 

“UAW John Deere members did not just unite themselves,” UAW international President Ray Curry said. “They seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace. We could not be more proud.”

Vedula is also glad that the strike is over. “In one way I’m glad it’s over so my dad doesn’t have to work such inconvenient hours, but I also recognize the strike was the result of John Deere not meeting workers’ demands. I believe the workers deserve to get paid more and striking was the best course of action to do so.”

Although it may have taken some time and some sacrifices, the UAW achieved what they were fighting for. Ten thousand union workers stood outside for more than a month, striked against a Fortune 500 company, advocated for their salary to match their hard work during the pandemic and they succeeded. The strike showcased that when organized people are in solidarity and make demands, they can incite change for a better quality of life.