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Deere spokesperson says rejected contract is 'last, best and final offer' for union workers

While a John Deere representative says the second rejected contract proposal is the last draft, the UAW claims negotiations will continue.

MILAN, Ill. — The day after union workers with Deere & Company turned down a second negotiated contract, a Deere spokesperson said there will not be a third proposal offered.

Members of local United Auto Worker chapters cast their vote Tuesday, Nov. 2 on a re-negotiated contract.  The results showed that 55% of union members were not in favor of the new contract, while 45% were; with a total of 9,040 votes; 5,010 voted against the new contract and 4,030 voted in favor of the new contract. 

This was a stark contrast to the overwhelming vote that declined Deere's first option back in early October.

Only four of Deere's eleven facilities reported a majority "no" vote during Tuesday's rejection. That includes operations in Milan and East Moline, IL., as well as Dubuque and Waterloo, IA.

Director of Deere & Co. Public Relations Jen Hartmann said the company's top priority is to get its workers off the picket lines and back into the factories. Workers have been on strike for 21 days as of Nov. 3. 

Hartmann stressed the company is still willing to continue with negotiations and isn't walking away from the bargaining table. Instead, she says Deere will not present a third, new contract, and instead still hopes to pass the second tentative agreement. 

Since seven of the 11 UAW units voted in favor of the new contract, Hartmann said there's still hope that this particular contract will still be passed.

"I think one of the things that the bargaining committee for Deere is making clear is that this is the best, last and final offer," she said. "Approximately 45% of those employees (approved) the contract, you know, we want to get those folks back to work. And we're hopeful that we'll get to that agreement and that can happen." 

The UAW and John Deere drafted this tentative, 6-year contract agreement on Saturday, Oct. 30.  Here are the contract details: 

  • 10% wage increase in the first year 
  • 5% wage increases on years three and five 
  • Bonuses on even numbered years
  • Healthcare with $0 premiums, $0 deductibles, $0 coinsurance
  • New paid parental leave
  • Autism care
  • Retirement benefits
  • Ratification bonus of $8,500 

"We're proud of this agreement," said Hartmann. "Part of going into this second tentative agreement was hearing from the UAW and their members: what is it they were looking for, and what can we be doing to really meet the expectations of our employees."

According to UAW International Director of Public Relations Brian Rothenburg, the negotiations aren't through yet.

"All I can tell you is nothing really new," said Rothenberg. "The elective bargaining committee is continuing to negotiate and we'll continue to look at next steps. We're still on strike and appreciate the community support for our picket."

Kristin Jordan is an assembler at Deere's Harvester Works location. She tells News 8 that she voted "yes" to approve the second contract. Although she felt parts of the agreement could have gone further, she said the 'total contract' was fair, and 'a pleasant surprise.' 

However, she said in the event the union rejected the contract (speaking with us hours before the results were released), she would still fully support her union. 

"I saved up for this and planned for this but it's still mentally a struggle to not have a job to go to every day, not knowing when you'll go back," said Jordan. "But I fully support my union and if the majority say 'no' I'm gonna stand on strike and support that." 

What could this mean for negotiations? 

On Wednesday, both Deere and the UAW said they are willing to negotiate, although no active talks have been confirmed by either side at this time. 

The first tentative agreement contract was voted down by 90% of union members back on Oct. 10. The most recent vote saw that rejection number fall to just 55% of workers. 

Erik Gordon is a University of Michigan business professor specializing in strategy. He says while the second contract was rejected on Tuesday night, the difference in vote margins paints a clear picture. 

"It's surprising that it's rejected. It's a big improvement over the first deal," said Gordon. "Clearly the union leadership and Deere leadership got the message. And the union leadership did a pretty good job of beating a new deal out of the hide of John Deere. I mean, those are big differences." 

After the second tentative agreement was announced on Oct. 30, UAW President Ray Curry said, in a statement, "Our UAW John Deere national bargaining team went back to our local members after the previous tentative agreement and canvassed the concerns and priorities of membership."

It's a move Kate Bronfenbrenner says was obvious within the second contract, but still not enough to convince enough workers. 

"(Deere) came back initially with a two-tiered proposal and the union made it very clear that they were not accepting this," said Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University. "They moved. And they moved on the wage proposal. But the workers are still angry." 

She notes that while facilities like Waterloo voted 'no' with over 70% of its vote, most of Deere's locations tipped 'yes,' emphasizing a growing divide among the rank and file union members. 

Gordon says from both perspectives, as well as Deere's, continuing negotiations need to keep the company's competitiveness in mind. 

"Deere does not rule the world, it competes with other companies," he said. "So the real battle in the end is not between Deere and its own workers. It's whether Deere and its workers together will be competitive going forward, because if the company isn't competitive going forward, there's nothing the union can do to produce jobs." 

But that's not the only reason the company might be eager to finish the strike. 

William Gould IV is the former Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and now a law professor at Stanford. His new book, For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic, is expected April 2022. 

He says strikes that drag on for months pose serious concerns. 

"Generally speaking, labor does not win long strikes," said Gould. "Because the sacrifices endured, through incurred wage losses, are so appreciable, that it takes an appreciable period of time -- years -- to make up for those losses." 

To him, Deere's movements indicate a fairly urgent desire to return to production. 

"What the workers have to make a judgment about pretty quickly is whether there's more gold in them there hills before the real cold of the winter sets in," he told News 8. 

Gould also explained that while a 10% raise in the first year looks really good on paper, he cautions community members from making assumptions. 

"I think that it does look like a pretty good deal, but you and I are not on the factory floor," he said. "Inevitably, it takes sacrifice to improve conditions -- both economic and otherwise. Now is the time, it would seem, for cool heads to prevail and try to bring the parties that last step to consummate a collective bargaining agreement, which I think at this juncture would be in everybody's interest."