BLACK HAWK COUNTY — They’re Democrats, Republicans and independents, and they disagree on a wide variety of matters.
But when it comes to supporting Waterloo’s thousands of striking UAW Local 838 workers at John Deere, elected leaders — many of whom either worked at Deere, have family members who do or at the very least represent hundreds of Deere workers in their wards — are united in their support of the strike.
Though there was no official agenda item on the strike, six of the seven Waterloo City Council members spoke in support of strike workers during Monday night’s meeting.
“These are hard economic times for many families, and I’ve seen economic data that those at the top have done well while the middle and bottom have struggled,” said Ward 2 Councilor Jonathan Grieder, the son of union workers and a union worker himself. “For too long, the voices of working people have been silenced and pushed to the corner.”
Ward 1 Councilor Margaret Klein, whose husband was a member of the UAW, said she remembered one strike in the 1970s.
“It felt like the earth fell out from under our feet — it was so scary. I worried constantly,” she said. She is keeping striking workers “in my prayers.” “Every time I go by (the strike locations), I think they’re going through those same emotions.”
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Ward 5 Councilor Ray Feuss, who said his father was a union driver, said he worries about it becoming a protracted strike.
“They have a lot of water and doughnuts, but what’s going to happen when their health care is discontinued here shortly?” Feuss asked, referencing Deere’s plan to reportedly cut off health care for striking workers Oct. 27. “The need is going to be there.”
Ward 3 Councilor Pat Morrissey said he supported all striking workers and unions, noting that union efforts have been “under attack ever since the ‘80s with the onset of a certain person being elected and what that person did to major unions in the country.” He presumably was referring to President Ronald Reagan’s anti-union efforts that resulted in less than 17% of U.S. workers being organized by the end of the 1980s.
“Solidarity goes farther than just Waterloo and one business,” Morrissey said. “The workers need their fair share.”
Councilors Jerome Amos and Dave Boesen noted they were or are still UAW members and both “fully supported” striking workers. A seventh councilor, Sharon Juon, said Tuesday she “fully support(s) the UAW and their work to improve the living standards for their members.”
Mayor Quentin Hart thanked “all of our council members for standing in solidarity” after the comments.
“John Deere plays a valuable role in this community and around the world,” Hart said. “We want to see the best for workers.”
On Tuesday morning, the five members of the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors — four Democrats and one Republican — unanimously approved a proclamation supporting the strike.
The proclamation included language that asserted “John Deere is now making record-setting profits and paying exorbitant salaries and bonuses to their top executives.” It noted the county “purchases John Deere products almost every year across multiple departments” with the “expectation ... that the workers who build them are properly compensated by the company they make so profitable.”
“We, the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors, do hereby proclaim our support for the striking UAW members at John Deere plants,” the proclamation read.
Supervisor Chris Schwartz, who authored the proclamation, said he had visited striking workers “every day of the strike so far,” and said it was inspiring to see small businesses and community members support the strike broadly.
“I do believe that corporate greed at some of our largest companies in this country has gotten out of control,” Schwartz said. “These workers are really standing up on behalf of all working people.”
Supervisor Linda Laylin said the community was “very fortunate” to have the multiple John Deere facilities in Waterloo.
“I think it’s great they’re making such great profits, but they’re fortunate to have the workers here that make those profits possible,” Laylin said.