Local UAW 838 members part of strike at Deere Waterloo Works

The UAW Local 838 union hall in Waterloo located just off I-380/US-218 on Washington Street is pictured last Friday, October 15, 2021. Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 838 who live in Tama and Grundy counties and work for John Deere Waterloo Works were part of the more than 10,000 Deere union workers in Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas who went on strike at midnight on Thursday, October 14 after the tractor manufacturer and the union failed to reach an agreement on a new six-year contract.

It is believed that more than 300 active UAW Local 838 members live in Tama and Grundy counties and have been affected by the strike, according to a local labor council official.

According to UAW Local 838’s Facebook page, following the ratification vote Sunday, October 10, the response of its nearly 3,000 local members was an overwhelming ‘no’ — 2,518 of the 2,707 UAW 838 votes cast were no — more than 90 percent.

Similar results were recorded across the UAW’s locals.

In response to the vote, Hawkeye Area Labor Council Executive Director Rick Moyle — whose council is a coalition of unions representing 26 counties in Iowa including Black Hawk, Grundy, and Tama — provided a statement to the North Tama Telegraph early Thursday morning following the strike.

“The Hawkeye Area Labor Council AFL-CIO will stand with UAW for as long as it takes. John Deere is taking in record profits while compensating their CEO multi-millions. Deere is successful because of the workers who are members of UAW. It is time for Deere and many companies like them to realize the American worker has had enough. We are tired of receiving peanuts when we know we are carrying most of the load on our backs for these extremely wealthy companies. The time for corporate greed to end is now.”

This will be the first major strike for the farm and construction equipment manufacturer headquartered in Moline, Illinois since a strike that began in November of 1986 — at the height of the 1980s farm crisis.

Deere & Company today is riding on the heels of an August third quarter earnings report that detailed net income of $1.667 billion — a figure which should contribute to record annual earnings for the tractor giant this fiscal year.

“Net income attributable to Deere & Company for fiscal 2021 is forecasted to be in a range of $5.7 billion to $5.9 billion,” the company said as part of its August report.

Record earnings not trickling down to the workers has been cited as one of the reasons the UAW is now on strike.

A UAW Local 838 member employed at John Deere Waterloo Works for roughly the last four months and who was born and raised in Tama County agreed to speak to the North Tama Telegraph on the condition their identity remains confidential.

“My job was machining tractor parts with CNC machines,” the member said. “Until recently I was working 12 hours a day, plus eight on Saturday on the day shift. Now I’m on eight hours plus Saturday on the night shift.”

In regards to the contract vote, the UAW Local 838 member said they voted no.

“When I went to vote there were cars with ‘vote no’ painted on them, people had signs that said no, and people I talked to were all voting no, etc. Since so many people were unhappy — and even the last contract left a lot to be desired and only passed by a razor thin margin — the choice [to me] was obvious.”

“The company has reported record breaking profits off of the hard work and long hours people have been putting in since the pandemic started, so the union is in a uniquely strong position and we have a lot to gain.”

During the strike, UAW members in good standing who register at the Local 838 hall in Waterloo and participate in the strike will be eligible for $275 a week in strike pay.

According to UAW Local 838’s Facebook page, “Participation may be picket duty, kitchen duty, strike information classes, or any other strike related assignment.”

“During the strike,” the UAW 838 member from Tama County who asked to remain anonymous said, “I and other newer hires are working in the kitchen at the union hall. There will be free meals there for anyone on strike.”

When asked what they would tell people who wonder what the strike is about and why it matters, the UAW Local 838 member responded, “I’d tell them it’s all about getting a fair share of the results of everyone’s hard work, especially during the pandemic.”

In a statement released by the UAW on Thursday last week, Ron McInroy, director of UAW Region 4 which includes Iowa and Illinois, said, “Our members and their families appreciate the community support they have already gotten. Strikes are not easy, but some things are worth fighting for.”

The UAW will be on strike until a new contract agreement is reached.