Union contract with Deere about to expire, raising possibility of strike

A contract between a major union and Dubuque County’s largest employer is on the verge of expiring without a new deal in place, raising the possibility of a strike.

In fact, a handful of employees of John Deere Dubuque Works who also are members of United Auto Workers told the Telegraph Herald that a strike is likely. Those employees spoke to the TH on the condition of anonymity.

John Deere employees last went on strike in 1986, according to UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg. That strike lasted about six months.

The current, six-year contract agreement between UAW and Deere & Co. expires on Friday, Oct. 1. The contract covers about 10,100 production and maintenance employees at 12 Deere facilities, including John Deere Dubuque Works, as well as other facilities in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.

There are 2,800 full-time employees at the Dubuque plant, though not all are union members.

UAW and Deere officials are in the midst of negotiations aiming to form a new agreement that will satisfy union employees. Those negotiations started in August.

Rothenberg told the TH that there are three potential outcomes when the current contract expires on Friday:

  • A tentative agreement will be reached, which will require final ratification from union members;
  • The existing contract will be extended in order to continue negotiations; or
  • John Deere’s union employees will go on strike.

When reached by the TH on Wednesday, John Deere provided the following statement in regards to the negotiations.

“Through the negotiations, John Deere is committed to ensuring that our employees continue to have the best wages and most comprehensive benefits package in the agriculture and construction industries,” it stated.

UAW already overwhelmingly voted on Sept. 12 to authorize a strike, though Rothenberg said this does not guarantee that one will occur.

“Right now, we won’t say if any of those options are more or less likely,” he said.

However, employees who spoke with the Telegraph Herald on Wednesday and wished to remain anonymous said many John Deere employees are unsatisfied with the current state of the negotiations, and they believe a strike is likely.

“It sounds like we’re going on strike,” said one Dubuque Works employee of four years. “They already have picketing duties lined up.”

Another employee, who has worked at the company for seven years, said workers at John Deere are particularly concerned that a new contract agreement will require employees to pay more for their health care benefits.

Multiple Deere employees confirmed that if any of the 12 Deere facilities under the current contract decide to go on strike, then all of the other facilities’ employees would follow suit.

“It’s either we all do it together, or we don’t do it at all,” one employee said.

The potential labor disruption comes as the company has experienced a surge in sales this fiscal year, compared to the prior one.

Deere & Co. reported $3 billion in net sales and revenues for its construction and forestry division — which includes John Deere Dubuque Works — in the third quarter of its fiscal year, which ended on Aug. 2. That represented a 38% increase in sales compared to the same period last year.

The division’s operating profit was $463 million in the quarter, up 126% from the same period the previous year, bringing the total operating profit for the past nine months up to $1.22 billion, up dramatically from last year’s operating profit of $394 million, according to the company’s earnings report.

Net sales for the first three quarters for the construction and forestry division sat at $8.6 billion, a 32% increase from the same period of the previous fiscal year.

Overall, Deere reported $11.5 billion in total net sales for the third quarter, bringing the company’s total year-to-date net sales to $32.6 billion, a 27% increase compared to the previous year.