A strike at Deere & Co. means something in the Quad-Cities.
It is no accident that many here remember the last time there was a Deere strike, in 1986. And that it lasted almost six months (163 days, to be precise.)
A strike at Deere doesn’t just ripple through this community; it makes waves. The Quad-City economy is closely tied to Deere, and it includes not just the thousands of Deere workers and their families, but also untold others whose companies and livelihoods are affected because of their contractual relationships with the company.
As Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, said, "You are disproportionately dependent upon manufacturing and disproportionately dependent upon one company."
The extent to which that is true has changed over the years, but our economic well-being is undoubtedly joined with Deere.
Still, we have to say, it is more than our economy. Deere and its workers are an integral piece of the Quad-Cities’ identity.
Anybody who has worked there — and who has family members who have worked there — knows what it means to be a part of John Deere.
Even those who haven’t been a part of this company know its important place in our community.
So, yes, a strike there doesn’t just ripple through our community, it makes waves.
It was just Sunday that 90% of workers who are covered under a proposed six-year contract overwhelmingly rejected the deal. The contract would have covered 10,000 production and maintenance workers at 14 sites, including several plants in the Quad-Cities. And at a minute before midnight late Wednesday, workers went on strike (Deere has more than 27,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada, and it said this week that its operations will continue.)
The outlines of the deal’s economic terms, whether it was in terms of wages or retirement benefits, have been reported. It is not our purpose today to pass judgment on who is right or wrong in this dispute, but it’s clear by the margin of the workforce’s rejection of the proposal that there is a wide gulf in expectations.
That so many rank-and-file workers would reject a tentative deal reached by their own union was eye-opening for many of us who have become accustomed over the years to what has appeared to be good labor relations at the company.
This strike comes at a time when Deere is enjoying record profits. Analysts expect Deere's annual net income to reach close to $6 billion this year. Meanwhile, workers are experiencing more bargaining power than they have had in recent memory, with a labor shortage and supply chain issues across the United States providing them a greater opportunity to push for a bigger share of the pie.
Depending on the length of the strike, we expect to hear frequently the arguments of the respective parties in this dispute. Already, the company has made it known that it has a well-paid workforce. Union members, meanwhile, have stressed the company’s profitability, as well as the concessions workers have made over the years.
As this plays out, we expect each side to pursue its own best interests, but we, as a community, have a stake in Deere and its union workers finding common ground. Our economy, and our well-being, have been tested over the past year and a half – and we expect our challenges aren’t through.
It is our hope that the differences between the two sides are resolved quickly.
John Deere is a unique part of the Quad-Cities. A strike affects the company and its workers the most. But it is felt by all of us.