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Deere and UAW return to negotiations as community support for strike grows

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Deere & Co. and Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) representatives headed back to the negotiating table on Monday, according to Brian Rothenberg, communications advisor for UAW.

As union workers began their fifth day on strike along the streets of Waterloo and several other cities gripping blue and white signs, Deere negotiators and union representatives discussed terms of employment to potentially create a new tentative agreement that would end the strike.

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Members of the United Auto Workers strike outside of the John Deere facility on West Commercial Street in Waterloo.

Deere officials issued a statement about the return to talks.

“We are fully committed to the collective bargaining process and resolving the strike,” said Jen Hartmann, director of public relations and enterprise social media. “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.”

One union worker in Milan, Illinois, hoped the new negotiations will bring improved terms. If Deere comes back with a lesser or similar offer, that worker said, tensions might boil over.

“That’s only going to incite the people that are already mad,” the worker said.

The six-year offer from Deere would have raised wages by roughly 5% over the life of the contract. The deal also limited retirement benefits for workers hired after the contract was ratified. Deere workers have faced forced overtime and poor treatment from managers and other company leaders, multiple employees said on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution. They said the last contract offer was unacceptable, especially considering the company’s record-high profits over the past year.

For the 2020 fiscal year, Deere & Co. net income totaled $2.751 billion, according to the company.

On the picket lines

Max, a four-legged, hefty lab and husky mix, and his union worker sat near a barrel fire at the entrance to John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline amid a crowd of “UAW on strike” signs.

Next to Max and his owner, whose main frustration with Deere was the attempt to cut retirement benefits for newer employees, was a two-foot-high pile of supplies. Cases of water and energy drinks were the base for boxes of donuts, Casey’s pizza boxes, chips, sandwiches, and other foods donated by the community over the past five days. Firewood and rain ponchos donations were also piled under the white tent, donations that would support picketers through more turbulent weather.

“It’s really nice to see everybody come together,” said David Schmelzer, a union worker at the Milan plant, while standing in front of his own plant’s stockpile of food donations. “Hopefully after this you know we’ll be stronger for it.”

At all Deere plants in the Quad-Cities, picketers have seen large donations of food, firewood, and weather gear from community members, local businesses, local unions, and others as an expression of solidarity toward workers while they advocate for better benefits.

Members of other local unions also have delivered firewood, hand warmers, doughnuts, and other food throughout the past five days at the entrance to the Milan plant, according to Schmelzer.

“It means everything to us, even though we may work for different companies, in some cases we work for competitors, but we’re all fighting for the same things,” Schmelzer said.

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