Thousands of workers strike in heartland with Hollywood poised to follow as unions push for new contracts

·Senior Writer
·5-min read

Deere & Co. employees went on strike Wednesday night as unions across the country threatened walkouts while bargaining for new contracts.

The roughly 10,000 farm equipment manufacturing employees in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas have said their wage and benefit increases are not adequate, while rejecting proposed changes to the pension plan for new hires as the company brings in record profits. Their union and the company reached a tentative agreement on a new contract earlier this month, but on Sunday workers overwhelmingly rejected the offer, with the Deere employees’ union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America 281, saying in a statement that “the tentative agreement reached by the UAW and John Deere was rejected this evening by a majority of 90% of the membership.”

John Deere tractors are seen for sale.
John Deere tractors. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

“UAW John Deere members have worked through the pandemic after the company deemed them essential, to produce the equipment that feeds America, builds America and powers the American economy,” UAW president Ray Curry said in a statement. “These essential UAW workers are showing us all that through the power of a strong united union voice on the picket line, they can make a difference for working families here and throughout the country.”

The strike was authorized last month with 99 percent approval. The last strike at the company, best known for building tractors and lawn mowers, was in 1986 and lasted 163 days.

“John Deere was once a premium employer,” Marty Carter, a Deere employee for the last 11 years, told the Des Moines Register. “It used to be the best place to work. It isn’t anymore. I think about our kids and our grandkids. We need great places for them to work one day, when they grow older. This isn’t going to do it.”

Meanwhile, the president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees announced Wednesday morning that roughly 60,000 workers would begin striking on Oct. 18 at 12:01 a.m. PT if an agreement isn’t reached. Workers including costumers, makeup artists, camera operators and set builders had authorized a strike earlier this month during negotiations over a living wage for the lowest earners, more rest periods and compensation from streaming productions. The last time crews went on strike was in 1945.

“The pace of bargaining doesn’t reflect any sense of urgency,” the union's president, Matthew Loeb, said in a statement. “Without an end date, we could keep talking forever. Our members deserve to have their basic needs addressed now.”

The union is negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and streaming companies. Those conversations have been ongoing for months, with the initial deal expiring at the end of July and a temporary extension continuing through Sept. 10. Any strike would essentially halt entertainment production.

A poster advocating union solidarity in front of a Costume Designers Guild office building.
A poster advocates for union solidarity in front of a Costume Designers Guild office building in Burbank, Calif. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

“There are five whole days left to reach a deal, and the studios will continue to negotiate in good faith in an effort to reach an agreement for a new contract that will keep the industry working,” said Jarryd Gonzales, a spokesman for the studio alliance.

These are just two of several potential strikes brewing across the country. Earlier this month, more than 24,000 workers for the health care giant Kaiser Permanente in California and Oregon authorized a strike. The members of two nursing unions said they are pushing back against a proposed two-tiered wage and benefits system that would result in newer hires making less, as well as addressing wage increases and staffing shortages.

Last week 1,400 workers at Kellogg’s cereal factories went on strike across the country, the latest action by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. Over the summer, the union organized actions from Frito-Lay and Nabisco workers. Prior to the strike, Kellogg’s announced its intention to cut 212 jobs at its Battle Creek, Mich., location.

A Kellogg's employee on strike stands with a sign around his neck that says: They're Greedy.
Michael Shlee, a bulk unloader at a Kellogg's cereal plant in Omaha, Neb., pickets outside the facility. (Grant Schulte/AP)

Additionally, about 1,000 Warrior Met Coal workers in Alabama have been on strike since April 1 and have picketed outside the New York office of BlackRock, an investment bank that the United Mine Workers of America says is the largest shareholder in the coal company.

“American workers are now flexing their muscles for the first time in decades,” wrote Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. “You might say workers have declared a national general strike until they get better pay and improved working conditions.”

The strike news comes with millions of jobs unfilled and the pandemic seemingly having shifted more power to workers. On Monday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data showing that a record 4.3 million Americans, or nearly 3 percent of the workforce, quit their jobs in August.

Last week, the September jobs report showed slower growth than expected, as the ending of the federal expanded unemployment benefits program did not spur people to find work. A number of Republican governors who cut off the program early and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had predicted that cutting unemployment benefits would increase labor force participation and reduce the shortage, but that hasn’t been the case.

This story was updated on Oct. 14 to note that the Deere & Co. workers had gone on strike.

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