John Deere Dubuque Works

John Deere Dubuque Works could experience its first strike since 1986 at 11:59 p.m. today if an agreement is not reached.

With a critical deadline looming tonight, union members at Dubuque County’s largest employer are bracing for a strike, and other local businesses are fearing the ripple effects of the possible work stoppage.

A strike deadline has been set for 11:59 p.m. today for union members at Deere & Co. The looming deadline comes just days after International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America members overwhelmingly voted to reject a tentative agreement with Deere & Co. that had been announced Oct. 1.

The contract between UAW and Deere covers more than 10,000 production and maintenance workers at about a dozen facilities, including John Deere Dubuque Works and plants in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.

There are 2,800 full-time employees at Dubuque Works, although not all of them are union members.

On the eve of the deadline, a union steward who has worked at Dubuque Works for more than a decade spoke to the Telegraph Herald on the condition of anonymity. He emphasized that a strike is highly likely, noting that many union members were deeply unhappy with the previous six-year contract, which originally had been set to expire on Oct. 1.

“Some people have been planning for this strike for almost five years,” he said. “We are ready.”

These frustrations only deepened when the UAW and Deere reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 1. That proposed deal was rejected by 90% of union members on Sunday.

“Pretty much every union member in the factory is angry with the UAW International for even considering that offer,” the Dubuque union steward said. “People are frustrated. They are fed up with the UAW and with Deere right now.”

Phone calls and emails placed to multiple officials with Deere & Co. were not returned Tuesday.

Prior to union members’ rejection of the tentative agreement Sunday, Deere issued a press release in which a company official said the deal would have made “the best wages and most comprehensive benefits in our industries significantly better for our employees.”

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg confirmed that negotiations have continued since Sunday’s vote. He expects talks to continue throughout today.

He explained there are three possible outcomes as the deadline nears: The existing contract could be extended to continue negotiations; a tentative agreement could be reached, requiring final ratification from union members; or John Deere’s union employees could go on strike.

He noted that union members already authorized a strike in the event that its bargaining committee decides to call one. That means that an additional, full union vote is not needed to set the strike in motion tonight.

“A strike is a serious issue, and it impacts the families and the community a lot,” Rothenberg said. “The UAW has a strike fund where we try to help our striking families while they are on the line, in addition to helping with benefits.”

According to the UAW website, impacted workers will receive $55 per day — or $275 per week — in strike pay.

The UAW Strike and Defense Fund also covers some benefits, such as medical and prescription drugs. It does not cover dental, vision, hearing and sick and accident benefits, according to the website.

Union members must actively participate in the strike to receive full benefits. They would lose weekly benefits — but retain medical benefits — if they get a new job paying more than $275 per week.

Because many local manufacturers rely heavily on their business relationship with Deere, a strike would have a far-reaching economic impact locally.

Travis Kieffer, co-owner of Plastics Unlimited in Preston, Iowa, is among many business owners keeping a close eye on negotiations. Operating in a town of about 1,000 people, the manufacturer counts Deere as one of its major customers and relies on that business to remain viable.

“If John Deere stops, of course that would have an impact,” said Kieffer. “If they stopped ordering things, that would be a large problem for us.”

Negotiations are taking place at a time when Deere & Co. is reporting positive financial trends.

The company has reported net income of $4.7 billion through the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, easily eclipsing the $2 billion reported through the first nine months of the previous fiscal year.

The construction and forestry division, which includes John Deere Dubuque Works, has reported net sales of $3 billion and operating profit of $463 million in the third quarter of fiscal year 2021. Sales in the division are up 38% and profit is up 126% compared to the same stretch last year.

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