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John Deere Striking Workers Emerge Victorious After Winning Major Concessions

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Employees of US agriculture and construction machine maker signed the third contract during the biggest private sector strike in recent years.
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Ending the biggest private sector strike in the USA in recent years, the United Auto Workers (UAW) signed a new six-year contract with agriculture and construction machine maker John Deere & Co. on Wednesday.

According to the workers, who went on their first strike in 35 years, they were forced to work for 12 hours, six days a week without sufficient pay hikes while the company made massive profits. The employees demanded bigger raises and more benefits citing Deere’s forecast of about $5.8 billion in income for its full fiscal year as against $2.8 billion in 2020 and $3.3 billion in 2019, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

Deere CEO John May earned $15.6 million in 2020, a 160% increase over his 2019, coinciding with his promotion to the top spot, USA Today reported. His massive salary hike rallied the UAW members with some displaying signs asking for 160% raise.

With a shrinking labour market and increasing inflation, workers of several large American companies, like snack-food company Mondelez International Inc., commercial-truck maker Volvo and breakfast-cereal company Kellogg Co, have declared strikes.

The 10,000 John Deere workers approved the third contract by a vote of 61% to 39% after rejecting the first two offers, ending the five-week strike at 14 facilities across five states since October 14, according to Peoples Dispatch, an international media project that reports on people’s movements and organisations across the globe.

The first contract had offered an immediate hike of 5%-6% depending on the job and proposed eliminating pensions for new hires. The second one proposed an immediate 10% raise across the board, an $8,500 bonus and also 5% raises in 2023 and 2025. Finally, the workers signed the third contract, which included the measures mentioned in the first two offers plus more pension and an increase in the hike from 5% to 10% in 2025.

Under the new deal, the base pay level for Deere’s continuous-improvement programme will increase by about 4%, giving workers more weekly pay from the programme if their productivity meets the company’s goals, WSJ reported. About two-thirds of UAW-represented Deere workers receive production-based compensation on top of their regular wages, according to the company.

UAW John Deere members did not just unite themselves, they seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace. We could not be prouder of these UAW members and their families,” Ray Curry, president, UAW, said in a statement.

Chuck Browning, director, UAW’s agricultural implement department, said in a written statement: “Our members’ willingness to strike in order to attain a better standard of living and a more secure retirement resulted in a ground-breaking contract and sets a new standard for workers.”

May, who believes that the employees will now “find new and better ways to improve our competitiveness”, said, “We’re giving employees the opportunity to earn wages and benefits that are the best in our industries.”

The income of farmers and the demand for land and farming equipment have been fuelled by a rebound in the agricultural economy this year due following the increase in prices for major farm commodities like corn and soybeans. Farmers and dealers were worried that the strike would have delayed shipments of Deere’s equipment, which are usually delivered in January or February if ordered through its early-ordering programme.

The strike had impacted production at Deere’s factories with the company deploying supervisors and non-union employees to distribute replacement parts and complete machinery mostly assembled at the time of the walkout.

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