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With UAW on strike, Deere says, ‘We’ll keep running’

The world’s largest farm equipment maker, Deere and Co., said managers and other salaried employees would keep its factories operating in the face of a strike by 10,000 union workers. “We’ll keep running,” the company said on Thursday.

Although Deere and the United Auto Workers union disagree on the size of pay raises and the scope of healthcare coverage, both said they hope to agree quickly on a new contract. “Strikes are never easy on workers or their families, but John Deere workers believe they deserve a better share of the pie, a safer workplace, and adequate benefits,” said UAW official Mitchell Smith.

Deere said it was “determined” to “put every employee in a better economic position” as some of the highest-paid workers in the agriculture and construction sector. Union members decisively rejected a company offer for a six-year contract a few days ago as inadequate.

It was the first major strike at Deere since a five-month strike that began in November 1986. Deere said it had activated a contingency plan in response to Thursday’s strike. “Employees and others will be entering our factories daily to keep our operations running,” it said in a two-paragraph statement. “Our immediate concern is meeting the needs of our customers, who work in time-sensitive and critical industries such as agriculture and construction.”

Some implement dealers stocked up on parts and equipment in recent weeks in the belief that a strike was imminent, reported Radio Iowa. Curt Christoffel, manager of the Agri-Vision dealership in Le Mars, Iowa, said Deere would move office workers into parts warehouses and some of its factories, and that “they are going to make sure we get parts out of the depots.”

Some 650 management and engineering employees are being sent into Deere facilities, many of them to a parts center in Milan, near Deere’s headquarters in Moline, Illinois, according to a comment from “a salary worker” on social media. “I can guarantee that with our lack of skill and numbers, we will not be breaking the strike.”

Deere accounted for 17% of agricultural tractor sales worldwide in 2018. Other major manufacturers include Kubota, CLAAS, Mahindra, Massey Ferguson, Kuhn, and Yanmar. The tractor market was valued at $66.5 billion in 2020, said Mordor Intelligence. It said North America was the fastest-growing market but Asia was the largest. India, with 157 million hectares of farmland, is the largest tractor market in Asia, followed by China, and its farmers are increasingly switching to higher-horsepower tractors.

International Harvester, a neck-and-neck rival with Deere among U.S. farmers for decades, was hobbled by a six-month strike by the UAW that began in November 1979 and ended in April 1980. By 1986, IH was out of the farm equipment business. Company president Archie McCardell was criticized for provoking — and losing — the strike in an attempt to win labor concessions.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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