UAW strike ends at Deere Waterloo Works

Local union members back on the job

Early Thursday morning last week, dozens if not hundreds of Tama/Grundy County United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 838 members employed at John Deere Waterloo Works laced up their boots for the first time in five weeks to head north to report for work.

The strike was over.

Back on October 14, more than 10,000 Deere UAW workers across Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas went on strike at midnight after an agreement on a new six-year contract with the tractor manufacturer failed to garner enough ratification votes.

The local Waterloo chapter — Local 838 — voted overwhelmingly no to Deere’s offer back in October with 2,518 votes cast against the contract out of 2,707 total.

“No one ever wants a strike situation,” Hawkeye Area Labor Council Executive Director Rick Moyle said in a statement to the North Tama Telegraph following the ratification vote on Wednesday, November 17 that effectively ended the strike, “but I think UAW members can take pride in the fact that as a body they made some significant gains to improve their workplace, not only for themselves but for future members.”

Overall, Deere UAW members voted 61 percent in favor on Nov. 17 of what Deere & Co. called its “last, best and final offer” to the UAW negotiating team.

But locally, UAW 838 members only voted 44 percent in favor of the contract, while 56 percent of those who voted on Nov. 17 voted no, according to a posting on UAW 838’s Facebook page — a lopsided vote that has garnered seemingly less discussion in the media.

Charlie Wishman, President of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, appeared to address the vote discrepancy on Facebook shortly after voting ended at 7:00 p.m., writing, “UAW, you took on one of the most important labor struggles and fights of our times with bravery and courage. No matter how you voted – well fought, brothers and sisters.”

Following the vote, UAW International issued a statement detailing the contract gains which include a $8,500 signing bonus; 20 percent increase in wages over the lifetime of the contract with 10 percent coming in 2021 and another 10 percent in 2025; return of Cost of Living adjustments; three 3 percent lump sum payments; enhanced options for both retirement and the incentive pay system (Continuous Improvement Pay Plan, CIPP); healthcare remaining the same for the life of the agreement.

Christopher Grimm, a Traer resident and UAW 838 member, was one of the roughly 300 UAW Deere Waterloo Works members who live in Tama and Grundy counties who were on strike for five weeks.

Grimm, a third shift machinist, voted yes on Wednesday, but expressed frustration with the union.

“I think it’s a fair deal,” Grimm told the Telegraph mere minutes before the ratification vote ended, “however the union has been worthless, they did not tell us anything. They thought the first contract was the best one but why did it change so drastically? And they cut off all support — they said to go to Facebook for updates but they cut off all comments ….”

Grimm said he will be weighing his options in the near future as to whether he will stay a member of UAW 838. He believes much of the communication confusion during the strike could have been avoided and would have preferred social media not being used as the main avenue for communication with members.

UAW 838 members who were in good standing ahead of the strike and participated in strike duty in some capacity received $275 a week in strike pay during the past five weeks.

But being on strike is fundamentally a tough gig both financially and mentally. This particular strike also came at a somewhat ironic time for many in Tama County.

As the strike unfolded and the weeks ticked by, the North Tama Telegraph heard from several area farmers whose adult children were back behind the wheel of a John Deere combine or tractor — UAW members helping their parents and grandparents with harvest while on strike from the very company whose equipment they were now operating.

Rory McInroy, director of UAW Region 4 which includes Iowa, said in a statement released by UAW International following the ratification vote, “Our members stood together and did not waiver. Members and their families put a lot on the line for these gains and the community support was overwhelming.”

Moyle ended his comments to the Telegraph with a similar sentiment.

“In solidarity [Deere UAW members] sacrificed for the overall good and I personally believe they can be proud of their accomplishments here,” Moyle said.

The strike was officially called off following the vote Wednesday evening. As of 7:00 a.m. Thursday, November 18, John Deere UAW 838 members were back on the job in Waterloo.