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What the John Deere strike is costing union members on the picket lines

UAW members receive $275 a week but aren't allowed to file for unemployment or find another job that pays more than strike pay.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — As both Deere & Company and the United Auto Workers Union grapple with how long this strike will last, the financial impact of manning the picket lines could create issues for thousands of families. 

Strike pay for UAW members is $275 a week, as long as picket duties are fulfilled. Until Oct. 2019, that amount was only $250 a week. For many of the union workers who spoke to News 8 off camera, that's roughly one-third of what they'd usually bring home over the same time period. 

Union workers are not allowed to file for unemployment while on strike in Iowa or Illinois. However, members are permitted to obtain another job as long as that income does not exceed $275 a week. 

Those on the picket line are eligible for limited health care coverage, including medicine and prescription drugs. But areas such as dental, hearing, vision and sick leave are all off the table for striking UAW members. 

Both the health care coverage and the strike paychecks come from UAW's strike fund, bankrolled in part by union dues. By some member reports, the current reserve has over $800 million saved up to help provide for the nearly one million UAW members worldwide. 

One worker out of Waterloo, who's remaining anonymous, is striking after over two decades with Deere. She said, while she's been able to save up enough money to weather the storm, she worries for some of her younger colleagues. 

"I've saved money because of this. I mean I'm financially set unlike new hires that haven't been here as long," said the employee. "New hires … I worry about them. So many of them live paycheck-to-paycheck. They're young." 

Many other union members have said their spouses have been picking up extra shifts, and family expenses have been cut back. 

"If it drags on, then many people will not find that amount to be sufficient to be able to meet their monthly needs to make their bills, and will have to look at other options in terms of ways to support themselves and their families," said Michael Childers, a professor of labor education at UW Madison. 

He notes that, while unions are unable to cover the complete cost of an employee's normal paycheck, many enjoy community support to help get their members through. 

Around the Quad Cities, entire lists of restaurants offering free meals to those on the picket lines have circulated union threads and group chats. Other businesses have begun offering free services and goods, including the Rust Belt, which announced all free admission for the Jackyl show for all John Deere UAW workers.  

And a GoFundMe organized by non-Deere UAW members gained more than $50,000 less than three days after launching. 

But Childers said that doesn't mean being on strike is easy, by any means, for workers or their families. 

"It was a hard decision, I'm sure, for a lot of people to even decide to go on strike," he said. "It's something they felt like they needed to do to get a fair deal from their employer." 

Find WQAD's full coverage of the John Deere contract negotiations here.