John Deere strike continues, affects supply chain issues

By Riley SimpsonNovember 03, 2021

More than 10,000 John Deere employees in Illinois, Iowa, Georgia and Colorado are striking for better pay and benefits

Although equipment manufacturer John Deere and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), the labor union that represents approximately 10,100 company employees, reached a tentative agreement in early October, workers have been striking for better pay and benefits since Oct. 14.

However, because the work stoppage means less access to replacement parts for John Deere machines in the agriculture and construction industries, the large-scale strike is exacerbating ongoing issues in the nation’s supply chain, which has been choked for the past 19 months by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This week, UAW members voted down a second contract from John Deere, 55% to 45%.

“Through the agreements reached with the UAW, John Deere would have invested an additional $3.5 billion in our employees, and by extension, our communities, to significantly enhance wages and benefits that were already the best and most comprehensive in our industries,” said Marc A. Howze, Group President, Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Administrative Officer for Deere. “This investment was the right one for Deere, our employees, and everyone we serve together. Even though it would have created greater competitive challenges within our industries, we had faith in our employees’ ability to sharpen our competitive edge. With the rejection of the agreement covering our Midwest facilities, we will execute the next phase of our Customer Service Continuation Plan.”

Although the new proposal would have paid union employees between $22.13 an hour and $33.05 an hour, depending on their position, The Register interviewed Douglas Woolam, a 23-year employee with John Deere in Moline, Ill., who said the majority of employees are on the lower end of that pay scale and would earn no more than $23.70 an hour — about $50,000 a year before overtime.

“I’m not thinking about me,” Woolam told The Register. “I’m thinking about people behind me. My dad thought about people behind him. My aunt thought about people behind her. And my grandfather thought about people behind him.”

WQAD News 8, a local news affiliate in the Quad Cities, interviewed Robb Ewaldt, an Iowa farmer who said he’s worried about the effect the UAW strike is having on the Midwest farming industry and the supply chain.

“There are concerns coming out to Covid, and [equipment] parts availability is kind of an issue, more than what we’ve had to deal with in the past,” Ewaldt told the station. “And now you put a strike on top of it, shutting down production or slowing it down ... It can be a concern.”

According to NBC News, farmers have mixed feelings about the John Deere strike: Many are supportive of the 10,000-plus workers’ desire for a better deal but have worries about a months-long strike affecting the country’s food supplies.

In addition, NBC News reported there’s a risk that crops can be damaged if they are planted or harvested late, and the insurance provided by the Agriculture Department requires that seeds are put in the ground and produce is pulled by a particular date to be fully insured.

The Des Moines Register interviewed Eric Maloney, a store manager at John Deere equipment dealer Sloan Implement in Fulton, Ill., who said “the business is doing the best it can to manage through the strike, as well as supply chain problems related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Register reported that Sloan Implement has been relying more than usual on repairing parts instead of replacing them.

“We’re going to just keep right on forging ahead as best we can,” Maloney told The Register.

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