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'I voted yes' | Why 1 John Deere union member says he feels held hostage by his union

After voting down Deere's latest contract offer by just a 6% margin, one union member says he wants to go back to work.

MOLINE, Ill. — As the John Deere strike enters its fourth week, one member of the United Auto Workers Union tells News 8 of his decision to vote 'yes' on the most recent contract agreement, and says it's time to go back to work. 

The employee is being kept anonymous for his safety. He says speaking out could lead to physical harm, and is also goes against union instruction. He has worked for Deere & Co. for over 15 years.

After voting almost unanimously to reject the first tentative contract agreed upon by Deere and UAW negotiators, a second contract offer had a much closer vote. On Nov. 2, only 55% of union members voted to continue the strike; 9,040 votes were cast in total, with 5,010 voting against the new agreement and 4,030 voting in favor. 

Just one day later, Deere's PR Director, Jen Hartmann, said that rejected second contract would be the 'best, last and final offer' from the company. While she stressed Deere would still be at negotiations, Hartmann said the contract gave workers the most Deere could spare while still remaining competitive. 

It's that contract that this particular employee voted 'yes' to ratifying. It would be a six-year agreement between the UAW and Deere & Co. Here's what's in it: 

  • 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

According to him, it's the best contract he's ever been offered during his tenure with Deere. He tells News 8 he felt helpless during the vote, with a feeling in his gut that it wouldn't pass. He also says he feels 'held hostage' by a small faction of union members who, he claims, are determined to continue voting 'no.' 

"I believe in our company. Therefore, my place is in the factory working, not on the street slowing the company down when the work is needed done, especially at these times," he said. 

This employee says he voted to reject the first contract offer on Oct. 10. Like many union members, he was angry over the lack of benefits for new hires, and says that's why he voted 'no.' 

However, the worker says many of his grievances with the first agreement were fixed in the second, and there were further additions that he liked, including better retirement bonuses. Critics of the contract say it could have gone further with CIPP incentive bonuses, retirement health care, wage increases and more. 

Now, he says all he wants to do is get back to work. 

"The biggest concern I have is for everyone's future; the company remaining profitable; and for all of us workers to have our best contract in place before the holidays," he says. "I believe the union has failed all of the people on the street with the signs." 

This member doesn't feel as though UAW leaders properly communicated important aspects of the contract, even after being directly asked for it. 

"If they had given the proper information before the last vote, the people would have left the fence and this would have already been ratified," he said. 

He also says a growing divide amongst union rank and file became more apparent in the days leading up to the second vote. He claims posts from within private union Facebook groups were filled with manipulative, bullying rhetoric from sides trying to push their own points. 

"There is people bullying union members online," the employee said. "If you even bring up the idea of taking the agreement, you are called names." 

It's what he called the 'no narrative,' and says members who voted 'yes' for the latest contract have started to wonder what it will take to end the work stoppage. 

And at this point, as the strike enters its fourth week, the worker says he's worried about being stuck on the picket lines through the cold of winter and the holiday season. 

"We need the company to give us one more vote," he said.

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