WATERLOO – Striking John Deere workers will be back on the job after the United Auto Workers agreed to the company’s most recent offer Wednesday night.
Companywide, the third tentative agreement was approved 61% to 39%, according to a post on the Waterloo-based UAW Local 838 Facebook page.
Locally, Waterloo union members voted the measure down 44% to 56%. Figures for other locals weren’t available.
Local 838’s post said the strike has been called off and directs first-shift members to report for work at 7 a.m. Thursday unless otherwise instructed.
“I’m pleased our highly skilled employees are back to work building and supporting the industry-leading products which make our customers more profitable and sustainable,” said John C. May, chairman and chief executive officer for Deere.
“Through our new collective bargaining agreements, we’re giving employees the opportunity to earn wages and benefits that are the best in our industries and are groundbreaking in many ways. We have faith that, in return, our employees will find new and better ways to improve our competitiveness and transform the way our customers do their work,” May said.
More than 10,000 UAW members had been on strike before the third ratification vote passed to end the more than month-long strike. John Deere Waterloo Works has 3,317 employees.
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Deere made its “last, best, and final” offer Friday in hopes of ending the strike. Polls at the UAW Local 838 were open until 7 p.m., according its Facebook page.
In Waterloo on Wednesday, Paul Ganske, 74, stood outside the UAW Local 838 Hall entrance on a chilly afternoon for hours, making a pitch to union members driving by to vote “no.”
Ganske, an electrician, first worked at John Deere from 1979 until 1985 when he was laid off. He started again in June after “retiring” from General Motors. On Wednesday, his car windows were posted with signs noting amendments he’d like to see made to the agreement.
“I just need a few. I don’t need all of them,” he said. A $10,000 signing bonus, and a 15% immediate wage increase, with 3% annual raise, were some of the terms he’d like to see.
“John Deere has been good to me, but they can do better,” he said. “People need to remember that Waterloo John Deere is responsible for making John Deere what it is today.”
Another Waterloo worker who wished to remain nameless voted against the deal. He said Deere could better its offer in terms on health care and retirement benefits.
“The cost of my tractor went up, and Bill Gates has enough stock in the company to be able to retire comfortably … The company has money to give. When is enough, enough?” he said.
Leaders on both sides declined comment, saying they wish to respect the process as rank-and-file union members vote on the new offer.
The first tentative agreement was overwhelmingly voted down Oct. 10. The previous offer, which improved wages and benefits from the initial agreement, was turned away Nov. 2 by a 55%-to-45% vote, with support from some Quad-City union locals but rejection from shops in Waterloo and Dubuque. The six-year contract would have covered about 10,100 production and maintenance employees at 12 facilities in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.
Workers across locals said they expect this vote to also have a narrow margin. A union member from Davenport Works said he’d vote against the contract but predicted many others will vote differently.
“It’s just kind of sad to me because there are people I know who voted no last time solidly with intelligent reasons why they waited it out,” the worker said. “I already know they’re going to vote yes, this time just to suddenly go back to work.”
Workers who’d seen details in the new contract said the changes focused largely on the company’s incentives program, or Continuous Improvement Pay Program. Union members who’ve criticized the program said the changes do not address their concerns.
Other than minor changes to CIPP, the third agreement offered the same benefits as the second. The proposed contract does not include full health care benefits in retirement, which is a deal breaker for some workers.
If the contract is ratified, some workers were told they should report back to work Thursday. However, other workers said plans are unclear and depending on how late results come in they might not return to work until later this week.
If the contract is voted down, workers will remain on strike.
“Whatever it’s going to be,” one worker outside of John Deere Seeding Group in Moline said, “it’s going to be close again.”