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John Deere workers end historic month-long strike with new union contract

John Deere workers end historic month-long strike with new union contract
United Auto Workers members end one of the largest strikes in US amid nationwide labour movement

More than 10,000 union workers with the farming and construction equipment giant that manufactures John Deere tractors have ended a historic, month-long strike after reaching a “landmark” contract with the company.

After rejecting two previous offers, members of the United Auto Workers union announced the ratification of a new six-year contract on 17 November, closing a strike – with the largest picket line in the country at the time, and the company’s first strike in more than 30 years – that impacted more than a dozen factories.

Members “did not just unite themselves, they seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace,” United Auto Workers president Ray Curry said in a statement.

Union vice president Chuck Browning said striking workers “started a movement”.

By a member vote of 61 per cent to 39 per cent, the union approved an agreement with a signing bonus of $8,500, a 20 per cent increase in wages over the lifetime of the contract, beginning with 10 per cent this year, and the return of cost-of-living adjustments to wages, among other improvements.

The “Striketober” strike was among the latest in a massive, nationwide wave of organised labor action amid a pandemic and its economic fallout that has underscored the nation’s wealth gap, with staffing and supply-chain issues that union workers and advocates have seen as leverage for better conditions and wages.

In a statement, Deere and Co CEO John May said he is “pleased our highly skilled employees are back to work building and supporting the industry-leading products which make our customers more profitable and sustainable”.

“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,” he said. “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.”

In its third-quarter reporting, Deere and Co announced that it earned more in the first nine months of the 2021 fiscal year than it did in all of 2013.

The company reported a net income through the beginning of August of nearly $4.7bn, topping 2013’s gains of $3.5bn. Its global sales have reached more than $32bn in 2021.

John Deere workers were among thousands of workers across the US representing some of the world’s largest brands – including Amazon, Frito Lay, Kelloggs, Nabisco and Starbucks – striking for better conditions and wages, or pushing for union representation.

A high-profile union vote is underway at three company-owned Starbucks coffee shops in the Buffalo, New York area, where workers will determine whether to join the first union within the chain – potentially sparking other union campaigns at thousands of company-owned coffee shops in the US.

Thousands of members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees also threatened to go strike last month without a new deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with 60,000 union members potentially grinding film and television production to a halt.

More than 1,000 Alabama coal miners have been striking since April, and have allied in New York City and Washington DC to bring attention to their fight.

After a high-profile union vote among workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, which gained support from members of Congress, labour organisers accused the retail giant of busting the campaign to create the first-ever union in the company’s history.

Following the failed union bid in Alabama, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among the largest unions in the country, has vowed to provide resources to help unionise Amazon workers.