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John Deere, workers feeling short and long term effects of strike

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- John Deere union workers spend their 12th day out on the picket lines on Monday.

Union workers walked off the job and onto the picket lines on October 14 after union leaders and the company could not agree on the terms of a new six-year contract.

UAW leaders and John Deere representatives met in Moline on Monday to continue to negotiate another contract.

"The longer this goes on, the more pressure there is on John Deere to settle," Director of the Rutgers Labor Education Action Research Network said. "The workers are going to want a resolution as well, so the stakes get higher for both sides the longer that a strike goes on."

Vachon said Deere has already felt the short-term effects of the strike. With its highly trained and skilled union workforce on strike, the company is operating at a reduced capacity. It has activated its Customer Service Continuation plan. As part of the plan, employees not involved in the strike will continue to work at the factories to keep operations running.

It is still early in the strike, so Vachon said the average worker might not feel the economic pressure.

"For the first few days, it is not as noticeable," he said. "You are getting money from the strike fund with the union, which is helping keep you afloat, but the bills start to come in, and works start to feel the pressure a little bit."

Several restaurants and other businesses are offering a special or discount to striking UAW members to alleviate some of the financial burden.

"When workers do go on strike, you often see local businesses support it," Vachon said. "Sometimes even folks from out of town will dial in and order pizzas and help to feed the workers on the picket line to help them keep their spirits up."

Union workers are fighting for better wages, healthcare and pensions. In early October, rank and file union members overwhelmingly rejected a contract that would have cut the pension plan for new hires.

If UAW workers can get a better deal, Vachon said the entire local economy would benefit.

"Right now, they give a lot of money to the CEO, a lot of money to shareholders, and all that money that goes out of town," he said. "By giving a little bit more of the pie to the working people that live right there in town, they're going to go out and shop. They're going to go out to eat. They're going to support their local small businesses and their friends and neighbors. That money is going to be spent locally, and it's going to have a positive effect on the local economy."

Vachon said each strike is different and can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

"A company has more economic reserves, that it can go a longer time without income than a typical plant worker can go without their income," he said. "But there is an economical cost also in terms of future business. Some of their customers might start buying different brands of tractor instead of John Deere, or maybe some folks that were going to buy a tractor decide to cancel their order and things like that because it's taking too long."

According to Vachon, a mix of factors including workers being forced to show up in person throughout the pandemic, years of rising income inequality and the current labor shortage give the workers an upper hand.

"Millions of people quit their jobs in August. People are refusing to accept jobs because of the wages and working conditions, and that reduces the pool of available workers," he said. "Because the employer can't as easily bring in replacement workers to keep the shop running, the striking workers have a bit more leverage than they than they normally would."

On Friday, John Deere announced plans to continue to provide health care benefits to its United Auto Workers union workers throughout the ongoing strike. The company also said eligible workers would continue to receive payments from its Continuous Improvement Pay Program. CIIP is an incentive program that sees workers get paid more for exceeding their production plans.

Deere said it wants to do "what's right by its employees."

Vachon said it is a mixed bag for companies in similar situations handle health care for striking workers, but it is often about public perception.

"Right now, the public perception is on the side of the strikers," he said. "If the company starts doing nasty things like stopping employees health care coverage, it's just going to reinforce the public support for the workers side of the of the negotiations."

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