ANKENY, Iowa — John Deere employees are on strike for the first time since 1986 after United Auto Workers (UAW) union members did not come to a contract agreement Wednesday night.
Union leaders had until midnight to come to an agreement with John Deere or extend the deadline, but failed to do so.
The decision to strike affects more than 10,000 Deere & Co. workers across 12 facilities.
Workers set up picket lines in Ankeny, Ottumwa and at several other locations, including the company's headquarters in Moline, Ill., early Thursday morning.
"The last time we had a contract come up, it was 2015. You fast forward to 2021, our membership is a lot better informed," said Chris Laursen, a John Deere employee in Ottumwa. "Social media has a lot to do with that. So no matter what kind of political background they're coming from, you know, we are all united in solidarity here."
When John Deere employees last went on strike more than 30 years ago, it lasted 163 days and was violent at times. That strike eventually resulted in the company's board of directors cutting dividends to shareholders in half.
"Our members at John Deerek strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules," UAW's Vice President and Director of Agricultural Implement Department Chuck Browning said in a statement. "We stay committed to bargaining until our members' goals are achieved."
The vast majority of union members rejected a contract offer on Sunday that would have delivered at least 5% raises. That contract, however, did not offer post-retirement health care or other benefits UAW was asking for.
Deere & Company is projected to report $6 billion in profits by the end of this fiscal year, a company record. CEO John May's salary rose to $15.6 million during the COVID-19 pandemic, WQAD reports.
"We aren't asking to be millionaires, we are asking for fair wages, a pension and post-retirement health care," one employee told WQAD News 8. "After 30 years or more of giving your body to a company and moving 1,000 pound castings around or assembling tractors, it rips your body apart. It's not unreasonable to not want to have that worry in life of, 'What if?'"
John Airy, a farmer in Linn County, has been driving Deere tractors since the early 1990s. When he bought a new tractor and needed parts, he wasn't getting a lot of information on the strike's potential impact from the salesperson.
"For some people, if you had a part that was not highly stocked inventory part that brings things to a grinding halt," he said. "And if you can't get it from John Deere because of the strike, because of parts and distribution or some like that, that could become a real issue for somebody they can go from working to sitting and waiting for parts."
Deere & Company released the following statement Thursday morning:
"John Deere is committed to a favorable outcome for our employees, our communities, and everyone involved," said Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere & Company. "We are determined to reach an agreement with the UAW that would put every employee in a better economic position and continue to make them the highest paid employees in the agriculture and construction industries. We will keep working day and night to understand our employees' priorities and resolve this strike, while also keeping our operations running for the benefit of all those we serve."
The company said it has activated a Customer Service Continuation Plan to keep factory operations running. It does not currently have an estimate of when striking employees will return to work or when negotiations will wrap up.
The strike comes at an inflection point for many U.S. companies struggling to find and keep workers. It follows a recent strike at Kellogg's cereal plants and news that 60,000 film and television workers could begin a nationwide strike on Monday.
John Deere workers strike in Ankeny, Ottumwa
RELATED: Labor expert: Current labor shortage gives John Deere workers some leverage in contract negotiations