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More than 10,000 John Deere workers go on strike as labor actions heat up in the U.S.

John Deere is known for its signature green and yellow farm equipment, like this equipment on display in 2015 at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.
Seth Perlman
John Deere is known for its signature green and yellow farm equipment, like this equipment on display in 2015 at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.

Updated October 14, 2021 at 4:08 PM ET

More than 10,000 workers at 14 different John Deere locations went on strike at the stroke of midnight after the United Auto Workers union said it was unable to reach a new contract with the tractor company.

"Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules," Chuck Browning, vice president and director of the UAW's Agricultural Implement Department, said in a statement.

John Deere, known for its signature green and yellow farm equipment, said it was committed to a "favorable" outcome for everyone involved — including workers.

"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," Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere & Company, said in a statement.

"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," he added.

The company did not have an estimate for when workers would return to the job or say how the strike would affect its operations.

Labor actions are occurring across the U.S.

The strike at John Deere is the latest in a wave of recent labor actions that has gotten so large that some are dubbing it "Striketober."

About 1,400 workers at all of Kellogg's cereal plants walked off the job earlier this month after being at an impasse with the company over a new collective bargaining agreement for more than a year.

Other strikes may be on the horizon. Roughly 60,000 film and TV workers with the union International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees voted to authorize a strike against studios to improve their schedules, pay and working conditions. Nurses and other health care workers at Kaiser Permanente in California and Oregon have also approved a potential strike.

"This is something that started a couple of years back," said Alex Colvin, dean of the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University, referring to a slight increase in labor actions. "But this current set of strikes definitely is larger than typical that we've seen over recent decades."

Exactly how many strikes occur each year is difficult to quantify, Colvin told NPR. The Bureau of Labor Statistics only tracks major work stoppages involving 1,000 workers or more. On average there are about 16 major work stoppages (both strikes and lockouts) that begin each year, and in 2021 there have been nine through September, according to preliminary federal data.

Colvin's school started a project in May to track strikes across the country.

Still, he suggested that workers and unions are feeling more emboldened recently. While some workers have chosen to quit their jobs altogether during the COVID-19 pandemic, Colvin noted, others have opted to stick with their current employers and push for better working conditions.

"Companies are having to do more to hire workers. They're offering signing bonuses, better packages to hire workers," he said. "The flipside of that is to keep your existing workers and to keep them satisfied, you have to do more. So we're finally starting to see some improvement on the wage front."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]