Union members employed by John Deere set up a picket line outside the gates of John Deere Des Moines Works in response to failed contract negotiations.
The picketers all belong to The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), with the local branch being called UAW 450.
For UAW 450, they have gathered in front of the gates of John Deere, barring vehicles from entry, with one of the many signs having been brandished on the line reading ‘UAW ON STRIKE.’
“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” according to a UAW’s press release from Vice President and Director of the UAW’s Agricultural Implement Department Chuck Browning.
Over 10,000 members have set up pickets at various John Deere locations.
UAW 450 represents the workers of John Deere Des Moines Works, helping organize the workers picketing efforts and getting in touch with different members of the community to meet the needs of their members.
At the John Deere Des Moines Works location in Ankeny, Iowa, there were approximately five picketers per gate, with there being a total of five gates to cover on grounds.
Syrus Miller, chairman for the community service committee of UAW 450, has worked at John Deere for 13 years and has been a member of UAW for 20 years.
During the strike, it's Miller’s job to make sure the strike kitchen operates efficiently and members have enough food. The strike kitchen is a pantry of food at the Local 450 headquarters that feeds members while on strike. Miller also takes in donations and talks to businesses to ask for support.
“We’re not on vacation. This isn’t a vacation for us,” said Miller. “We're here trying to support 900 members, trying to make sure that we get the word out, and my kids, I got to see them yesterday for two hours, you know, I was here.”
Miller said that he had to pick up a second job last year in order to pay his bills.
“These guys that are sittin’ in the CEO spot, I’m sure they work a lot of hours, but I’m sure they get to go home without having to work two jobs to see their family,” said Miller.
Miller stressed the importance of organized labor in America.
“Organized labor is what built this country,” he said, “organized labor set the bar for what other people get paid. We ask for higher wages so we can feed our family without working two jobs.”
Miller remarked that while multiple politicians had shown up to support the strike, he hadn’t seen U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and didn’t expect to.
Grassley told the Des Moines Register that it was the workers’ right to strike and we have to respect it but that he didn’t know the strike was happening until they told him. He addressed the strike later on Twitter.
“For many years I was a factory worker & union member & did go on strike as a part of that experience The Deere workers & their families now face a stressful situation I hope good faith bargaining can bring the dispute 2swift conclusion for the good of all parties & our Iowa economy,” Grassley tweeted.
Michael (JD) Neal, the trustee chairman for UAW 450 has been working for John Deere and a member of UAW 450 for 17 years.
As trustee chairman, Neal said he has a plethora of responsibilities. His main focus is to provide direction and make sure the members of UAW 450 have what they need while they are on the line, whether that be food, water or propane, according to Neal.
“I’ve been home for a total of 12 hours, and I’ve probably slept for 8 of those,” said Neal.
Noting the strain the strike may pose on family life, Neal said that his family supports him 100 percent, and his family understands that struggling is necessary for the betterment of their lives.
Neal said he wants people to understand the workers are not striking to pad their pockets but to get fair and equal treatment from John Deere.
Neal also notes the support from politicians, having said over the course of three days they have had support from a plethora of democrats, but he has not seen a single republican.
State Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-23) visited the picket line on Friday afternoon. He held signs and walked the line with the union members.
“I haven’t heard that many horns honking since the last Los Angeles traffic jam I was stuck in,” said Quirmbach. “So there were good spirits of people on the line and a good amount of community support as well.”
Quirmbach said unions around the country have been signing minimal contracts for years and that union bargaining power is not what it used to be.
“The unions are looking to make up some of their lost ground and I certainly support that,” said Quirmbach. “You look at some of the economic statistics, there’s growing economic inequality in this country that’s been going on for 40 years really. Wages for union workers and especially non-union workers have not kept up.”
Quirmbach said that John Deere offered a 5-6 percent increase in wages. In the last fiscal year, inflation rose 5.4 percent. Quirmbach said this wage increase would be barely enough to keep up with inflation let alone a reward for increased productivity.
In November 2019, John C. May was promoted from President and COO of John Deere to Chairman and CEO. His salary increased by 160 percent. His earnings from the 2020 fiscal year were $15,588,384. The median employee salary was $70,743, a ratio of 220:1.
“The CEO is doing quite nicely, the stockholders are doing quite nicely, I think it's time for the workers to share in the benefits,” said Quirmbach.
Curtis Templeman, the UAW bargaining chairperson, took note of the disparity between the wages of workers to the success of the company.
“We have the best employees, we make the best equipment , our members are entitled to the best wages,” said Templeman.