Strike

John Deere Dubuque Works union employees (from left) Rick Heid, Sheila Stirm, Kevin Hoftender and Craig Brandt picket outside the south entrance to the plant on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.

While representatives from Deere & Co. and United Auto Workers have not yet struck a deal to end the ongoing strike, the company on Friday afternoon announced that it will issue incentive pay and benefits as talks continue.

“As we work constructively with the UAW to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, John Deere will continue providing health care for all our UAW-represented production and maintenance employees,” Deere said in a brief statement. “In addition, we will provide these employees with the Continuous Improvement Pay Plan incentives they earned before the strike as scheduled.”

The statement went on to say that these pieces of compensation “are critical aspects of John Deere’s industry-leading wages and benefits.”

Reached by the Telegraph Herald on Friday afternoon, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg declined to discuss the Deere announcement or the general state of negotiations.

“It is our policy, while we are bargaining, not to discuss bargaining publicly in the press,” he said.

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 other plants in Iowa and Illinois. The Dubuque Works plant employs 2,800 workers, including about 1,500 union members.

The union workers officially went on strike on Oct. 14 after negotiators failed to reach a new agreement prior to a strike deadline.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity Friday, a Deere source familiar with negotiations expressed optimism that the two sides are finding common ground.

“I cannot speculate on when we will conclude,” the source said. “We are in active conversations, and we are making progress. We remain hopeful we will have a quick resolution.”

On the day the strike commenced, Deere officials announced the activation of their Customer Service Continuation plan, a short-term initiative aimed at keeping operations afloat during the work stoppage. The anonymous source from Deere confirmed that the Dubuque Works plant remains operational and said the Customer Service Continuation plan remains active.

“The CSC plan is focused on making sure we continue to meet the needs of our customers, especially those in the middle of harvest season or trying to get a construction project completed before winter weather comes,” the source said. “We are committed to ensuring we can keep them running.”

The strike comes during a strong year for Deere & Co. The company 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.

Asked whether these recent earnings should trickle down to union workers, the Deere official emphasized that wages largely are dictated by broader market conditions.

“We compete for talent at every level in our organization,” the source said. “We have to pay market competitive rates to make sure we can hire the people we need whether they are in the board room or working in our factories.”

More than a full week into the strike, the short-term realities and long-term concerns tied to the work stoppage are having a ripple effect throughout the region.

David Heiar, interim director of Jackson County (Iowa) Economic Alliance, acknowledged that, even outside Dubuque County, many local manufacturers work closely with Deere.

“We have several companies that make parts for Deere, and in some cases, Deere is a major customer,” Heiar said. “It will certainly have an impact if they are not at work. If they don’t need the parts, these companies are not going to be making anything for them.”

Area farmers also are keeping a wary eye on the ongoing talks.

Craig Recker, president of Dubuque County Farm Bureau, said the strike is exacerbating existing delays.

“With supply-chain issues, things already are not good,” he said. “People are waiting longer for combine parts, for tractor parts. I could see that problem getting worse if (the strike) goes on much longer.”

Farmers in need of new equipment also are bracing for lengthy wait times.

“My understanding is that (before the strike), a skid loader would have arrived in January or February if you ordered one today,” Recker said. “If they aren’t working, that just backs that up all the more.”

Throughout the area, local unions also are altering their normal way of doing things to show solidarity with UAW Local 94 in Dubuque.

Tom Townsend serves as president of Great River Area Labor Federation, which counts Dubuque Federation of Labor as one of its chapters. He noted that Dubuque Area Federation of Labor canceled events, including a recent trivia night, to show unity with UAW Local 94.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” Townsend said. “We are doing the best we can to support people out at Deere who are fighting for better conditions. … The average union worker understands they could be in the same situation one day.”

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