More than 10,000 Deere & Co. workers went on strike Thursday, the first major walkout at the agricultural machinery giant in more than three decades.
The union had said its members would walk off the job if no deal has been reached by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The vast majority of the union rejected a contract offer earlier this week that would have delivered 5% raises to some workers and 6% raises to others at the Illinois company known for its green tractors.
Under the agreement that the workers rejected, a top scale Deere production worker would make just over $30 per hour, rising to $31.84 after five years, according to summary of the proposal.
"The almost one million UAW retirees and active members stand in solidarity with the striking UAW members at John Deere," UAW President Ray Curry said.
Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere, said in a statement that the company is "committed to a favorable outcome for our employees, our communities and everyone involved." He said Deere wants an agreement that would improve the economic position of all employees.
"We will keep working day and night to understand our employees' priorities and resolve this strike, while also keeping our operations running for the benefit of all those we serve," Morris said.
Thirty-five years have passed since the last major Deere strike, but workers were emboldened to demand more this year after working long hours throughout the pandemic and because companies are facing worker shortages.
A handful of workers began forming a picket line outside the company's plant in Milan, a town in western Illinois near the Iowa border, about 15 minutes after strike deadline.
The union dropped off a metal barrel and firewood to keep workers warm in preparation for a demonstration that is expected to continue for 24 hours a day, the Quad-City Times reported. At several other Deere plants workers planned to begin picketing Thursday morning when the first shift would normally arrive.
The contracts under negotiation covered 14 Deere plants across the United States, including seven in Iowa, four in Illinois and one each in Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.
The contract talks at the Moline, Illinois-based company were unfolding as Deere is expecting to report record profits between $5.7 billion and $5.9 billion this year. The company has been reporting strong sales of its agricultural and construction equipment this year.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.