EAST MOLINE, Ill. — UAW members around the Quad Cities say they're bracing for another close vote, ahead of Wednesday's ratification attempt.
On Nov. 17th, 10,100 United Auto Workers members will be able to vote to approve a ratified version of Deere's second contract offer, thus ending the strike, or reject it, and remain on the picket lines.
According to the union, the latest offer revolves around the second tentative agreement put forth by Deere & Co., with minor modifications. Most of those tweaks involve the company's quarterly incentive program, known as "CIPP."
Under the ratified offer, CIPP employees would be able to earn 5% more on weekly bonuses if a certain threshold of productivity is met.
Read more about the changes to the contract, here.
One third generation UAW member tells News 8 he's ready to get back to work, saying he's happy with what the company has already offered to workers, including higher wages for the next six years, with adjustments for raises in cost of living, and better retirement options for new hires.
"The company is all but telling us they don't want to fight. And honestly, at some point we will start losing," he said.
However, not every worker is satisfied with the latest offer. One employee in Northeast Iowa called Wednesday's vote 'unacceptable,' and wished the company would have brought more back to workers beyond 'minor modifications' to the second contract.
"My thoughts on (Wednesday's) vote is unacceptable," he said, explaining why he plans to vote 'no' again. "We already said no on those terms. They just added an extra 5% to CIPP workers and nothing for hourly and skilled trades."
How are experts weighing in?
Leading up to Wednesday, labor experts say many union families are weighing not only the benefits of the latest offer, but also the cost of staying on strike.
"In some ways, the tougher the conditions, the more it strengthens resolve," said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois. "In this situation, if these workers feel like they are slightly better off than they were under the first two offers, and don't realistically believe they can make any other significant changes that would warrant staying out on strike for a prolonged period of time, then this will be seen as a good third offer."
He says after 34 days on the picket lines, as the weather continues to get colder, paychecks remain smaller, and the holidays quickly approach, those factors get taken into consideration as well.
"(Now) they decide, well know, do we really want to be out through the holidays? You know, are we comfortable with doing that," questioned Bruno. "It will come down to an assessment of whether the minor improvements to CIPP generate enough additional benefit that it would warrant approving. Or do they believe there's still greater economic value to be on strike?"
And it appears Deere only needs a few hundred workers to agree the ratification is worth approving.
During the second vote 9,040 members cast a ballot, with 5,010 voting against the contract and 4,030 choosing to accept it. To pass, a tentative agreement only needs a one vote majority. In the case of the second contract, that could have been achieved if 491 members had flipped from a 'no' to a 'yes' vote.
"Can you drain enough votes out of that," questioned Bob Bussel, Director of Labor Education at the University of Oregon. "This really does come down to a question of how the two sides look at leverage at this point, and each is trying to figure that out."
Bussel speculates that by the company focusing the recent modifications on CIPP, something not every Deere worker has access to, it could be trying to target a specific voting bloc.
"It's always hard to get into someone's head in the negotiating table exactly, but if the vote was that close, it could be, 'What do we have to do to convince enough people to get us over the top?' So if this is a grievance or an irritant that really matters to a group of workers, if you could sway some of those, then that could be a strategy," he said.
Regardless of how workers cast their votes on Wednesday, Bussel says individual union members might have an even higher incentive to turn out, although he does note the nearly 90% that voted on the second offer was one of the highest he's seen in a while.
What happens if the vote passes on Wednesday?
Work at all John Deere facilities will resume by Thursday morning, although some third shift members have told News 8 they've won't need to come back at midnight.
Instead, they've been told work will begin at 7 a.m.
What happens if the vote fails again?
There are a few possible ways for both sides to move forward if the ratification attempt isn't passed.
First, the strike will continue, with some speculation that a fourth offer would not be quick to come.
"They could really settle into a strike that goes into January," said Bruno. "The company could go into court, the union could go to the National Labor Relations Board and look to file charges. The two sides might further amp up a public relations campaign and the union could be looking build networks of other unions and politicians to bring them in."
Deere could also look to bring in replacement employees, although Bruno says at this particular moment, knowing the country's labor makeup, that might be unlikely.
Additionally, there could be legal grounds for an 'impasse,' meaning both sides have offered everything they can and see no way to move forward.
"And then under those circumstances, the union might file unfair labor practice charges, say that actually isn't the case, and would then go before the National Labor Relations Board to have them determine," explained Bussel.
If the vote doesn't pass on Wed., he says immediate financial calculations will need to happen on each side.
"Holidays certainly become tougher for people when there's less money coming in," Bussel said. "And then from Deere's perspective, it's a dollars and cents thing in terms of its profitability, its brand its reputation."
And after 34 full days on the picket lines, he says workers wouldn't be far off from the truth to say their votes on Wednesday will have the eyes of the nation on them.
"Deere is such a known entity. It captures attention," he said, referencing the national wave of strikes that also kicked off this fall. "There's still this real serious (labor) militancy out there. I think it certainly has captured national attention. It really is democracy in action with all of its prospect possibility and messiness."