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As John Deere workers strike, Ottumwa community braces for impact

In Ottumwa, many residents have some sort of connection to the John Deere plant and are concerned about how the strike will affect them.

OTTUMWA, Iowa — UPDATE:
As of midnight 10/14/21, UAW members at John Deere have voted to strike.

“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” said Chuck Browning, Vice President and director of the UAW’s Agricultural Implement Department. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members' goals are achieved.”

UAW President Ray Curry said, “The almost one million UAW retirees and active members stand in solidarity with the striking UAW members at John Deere.”

Over 10,000 members at John Deere locations are setting up picket lines. Stay with Local 5 for the latest updates.

ORIGINAL STORY:

By midnight on Thursday, 10,000 John Deere workers in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas could head to picket lines to strike for better wages and benefits from the massive farm equipment company. 

John Deere has plants across Iowa. They're in Ankeny, Waterloo, Dubuque and Ottumwa. The Greater Des Moines Partnership notes the company is one of the largest private employers in the metro. 

Down in Ottumwa, many residents have some sort of connection to the John Deere plant, and many are concerned about what a strike could mean for their community. 

Bar owner Sharon Stout delivers lunch to employees at the facility just down the road. 

"After midnight, if they honestly go on strike, I'm going to miss them," Stout told Local 5's Jon Diaz. 

And she's not alone. 

"We've never had to do anything like this before... you don't know what to expect when it's all-new," said Jennifer Handling, who has a family member who works at Deere. 

But, of course, the biggest impact will be to those thousands of John Deere employees who are part of United Auto Workers (UAW), who've been preparing to strike for a while. 

"If a union is about to go on strike, they're making preparations as far as making sure that they are," said Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor. "They might have physical staging locations for where they're getting, where they're going to have people who are going to be picketing. They're probably also setting up or looking at their strike fund to see what kind of benefits may be possible for folks." 

Employees overwhelmingly rejected the last contract proposal between John Deere and UAW. 

RELATED: John Deere union workers vote down new contract

"What they want is, they want the same American dream that their parents had that worked at Deere," said Wishman. "They want that for themselves. They want that for their families." 

Local 5 reached out to both Deere and local UAW leaders, but both declined to comment until Wednesday night's deadline passes. 

"Taking a strike vote and meaning it and knowing that you are going to be without pay and sacrificing in the short-term so that you and your family can benefit in the long-term," said Wishman. "That's not something that workers are going to take lightly."

All of this comes in the midst of a pandemic and a recovering labor market. John Deere expects to finish the year off with nearly $6 billion in earnings. Despite the impact, folks like Stout are keeping the workers she's gotten to know in mind. 

"I wish them all the best," Stout said. "And I understand why they're doing what they're doing." 

WATCH | 10,000 John Deere workers set to strike just before midnight Wednesday