Local employees react as Deere, union back at negotiating table

Negotiations have resumed this week between Dubuque County’s largest employer and the union that represents a majority of its workers, but no specifics about the talks have been disclosed.

Officials with both United Auto Workers and Deere & Co. on Tuesday confirmed the two entities restarted negotiations Monday, though both declined to provide further comment.

“I can confirm they are back in bargaining as of yesterday,” said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg. “They are still on strike, but we are talking.”

About 10,000 union employees of Deere & Co., including many of those at John Deere Dubuque Works, have been on strike since Thursday. Days earlier, union members overwhelmingly rejected a tentative collective bargaining agreement spanning six years that would have delivered 5% raises to some workers and 6% raises to others depending on their positions in the factory.

This is the first major strike by John Deere workers since 1986.

Sign-bearing union workers have established picket lines outside John Deere Dubuque Works and the UAW Local 94 office on Central Avenue. A total of 2,800 people work at Dubuque Works, though not all of the employees are union members.

Katie Nelson, an employee at Dubuque Works and UAW member, said the local union has received numerous food, beverage and monetary donations from businesses and residents since the strike began.

“There are all different kinds of local businesses and people that are reaching out and donating,” Nelson said. “We all plan on supporting them as they supported us when we needed it.”

When reached by the Telegraph Herald on Tuesday, Deere & Co. provided the following statement: “We are fully committed to the collective bargaining process and resolving the strike. We remain committed to providing our production and maintenance employees with the opportunities to earn the best wages and most comprehensive benefits in our industries.”

However, multiple Dubuque Works employees on strike who spoke with the Telegraph Herald on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity expressed both hope and skepticism over an agreement being reached that would be accepted and ratified by union members.

“We’ll have to see what they come up with, but the last offer shouldn’t have even been brought to the table,” said one employee, who has worked at the local plant for 10 years. “I don’t have a lot of faith. I have more faith in my UAW members to only accept a good contract.”

He said he and other union members seek what they believe are justified wage increases and adequate health care benefits amid predicted record profits for Deere. The company reported a net income of $4.7 billion in the first three quarters of its fiscal year and predicts total income to reach $5.7 billion to $5.9 billion by the end of the year.

“They are making a lot of money, and we just want them to share it with the people that are making the money,” the local Deere employee said. “What we want is just compensation.”

Another Deere employee, who was picketing outside Deere Works on Tuesday, said she was not aware UAW and Deere had re-entered negotiations, but she is hopeful that an adequate agreement will be reached.

“I hope they can reach something,” she said. “I think they can offer a better deal.”

Meanwhile, farmers and Deere suppliers are worried about what the strike will mean for their livelihoods.

“If this gets sorted out in a couple of days, great,” said Brian Jones, who farms in central Iowa. “But if it drags out for weeks, you start to get a little concerned about things.”

Lance Lillibridge, who farms near Cedar Rapids, said he worries about not having parts should his John Deere combine break down.

“We have a lot of big equipment out here that we’re using to bring in a harvest, and if a part breaks down that we can’t get, we’re done,” said Lillibridge, who is also president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association board.

Burk “Skeet” Miehe, of American Pattern & CNC Works in Cedar Falls, said his business was doing OK initially because it worked ahead to meet orders from Deere.

“If it does go longer, it could affect us,” Miehe said.

At John Deere equipment dealer Sloan Implement in Fulton, Ill., Store Manager Eric Maloney 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 dealer 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 said.