Deere union employees back in factories, aiming to ramp up production

One day after the ratification of a new contract, a representative from Deere & Co. confirmed that workers have returned to the Dubuque factory.

Deere & Co. Director of Public Relations Jen Hartmann said Thursday that members of the United Auto Workers who had been on strike are back at facilities across the country and are in the process of working their way back to typical production levels.

“While operations resumed on third shift Wednesday night, each factory is transitioning into full production over the next several days,” she said. “This is not atypical for any return-to-work process or ramp up of production following a shutdown.”

Members of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America on Wednesday ratified a new, six-year agreement with Deere & Co. The approval of the contract ended a five-week work stoppage that represented the first major strike by Deere workers in 35 years.

The contract between UAW and Deere covers more than 10,000 production and maintenance workers at about a dozen facilities across the Midwest. John Deere Dubuque Works employs 2,800 workers, about 1,500 of whom are union members.

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg indicated that the return to work — and the ramp-up in production that is unfolding — is not a foreign process to workers. Through typical processes such as layoffs or seasonal shutdowns, workers have gained some measure of experience with similar situations.

“In manufacturing, there are always stops and starts,” Rothenberg said. “It is part of the rhythm of manufacturing.”

Hartmann did not directly answer a question about whether Deere would implement additional shifts or overtime hours as it tries to make up for lost time.

She noted that the company executed what it called a Customer Service Continuation Plan in the midst of the strike but said “reaching a ratified agreement and getting employees back to work was, of course, always the priority.”

“Now, factories, including Dubuque Works, will execute to a production and workforce schedule just as they always would,” Hartmann said.

Under the newly ratified deal, union members will receive a 10% pay increase in their first year of the contract, as well as subsequent increases of 5% in the contract’s third and fifth years.

The deal also included 3% lump-sum payments in the second, fourth and sixth years of the deal, provided an $8,500 ratification bonus, preserved a pension option for new employees, made workers eligible for health insurance sooner and maintained their no-premium health insurance coverage.

“The collective bargaining process works,” Rothenberg said Thursday.

Hartmann expressed satisfaction that the new deal had been reached and the strike had concluded.

“This new collective bargaining agreement recognizes our commitment to put every one of our employees in a better economic position and rewards our UAW-represented employees for the tremendous work they have done — and will continue to do,” she said.

She noted that additional details about the financial fallout of the work stoppage, as well as current plans to fulfill orders, will be shared when Deere releases its quarterly earnings report on Wednesday, Nov. 24.