John Deere Strike: A Union Member Explains How Bad Faith Dealings Produced Today’s Grievances

Yves here. Reader TroyIA, who works at John Deere, has graciously provided us with an important background to strike, most of all the too-clever provisions that management won in past contract negotiations that turned out markedly worse for union members than they were led to believe. A centerpiece is the hated incentive plan CIPP, which not only due to tricks and traps regularly fails to yield any payments despite a unit appearing to hit targets, but can even deliver negative payments, as in deductions. It sounds like an evil next-gen version of a derivatives payout formula that industry expert Satyajit Das was tasked to analyze on behalf of a perplexed Indonesian client, who was paying faithfully for protection, yet no matter what happened in the relevant market, he never got any funds. It turns out no matter what numbers you plugged into that formula, the answer was always zero.

Please send your good wished to Troy and his fellow strikers.

By TroyIA, an absentee replacement welder at John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois for almost 14 years

My position is to know how all of the jobs in my department are performed so I can fill in for anyone who is absent. The following has been my experience working at Deere so far as well as shop lore that has been handed down from previous workers.

It’s midnight on Wednesday October 13th and I’ve been laying in bed for the past hour in nervous anticipation when I get a text from my union. It’s on. We are striking against the company for the first time in 35 years. After months of shop chatter and planning for this moment the actual reality of going on strike hit me. And then I began to ask questions. How much hardball will the company play? Has the union miscalculated and we end up even worse than before? What will the wider community think of us? But most importantly how did we get to the point that a UAW endorsed contract would be rejected by the rank and file by a 90% to 10% vote?

To begin this story we need to start in the 1970’s. The agriculture economy is booming and companies like John Deere, Case IH and Moline Plow Company are busy supplying farmers with implement like tractors and combines at such a high rate that the Illinois side of the Quad-Cities was called the farm implement capital of the world. To hear the old timers tell it one would graduate high school on Friday and start working on Monday. And these were good paying middle class jobs that would allow one to raise a family without any financial worries and retire comfortably.

Then in the early 80’s the ag economy was decimated by a one-two punch of an embargo against the USSR and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. Every company laid off thousands of workers and went into survival mode. Some held on longer than others but by the end of the decade only John Deere was left standing. The workers who were laid off in 1980-81 slowly returned after being out 5 and sometimes 8 years. It may sound crazy to return to a job after an 8 year absence but the jobs that were available after the ag companies left were low paying non-union jobs. Having a job at John Deere was like Charlie and his golden ticket in Wille Wonka because you and your family would be set for life.

As John Deere recovered and the wider community began to heal from the shock of having a major part of its economy eliminated everyone felt good in 1997 about contract talks between the company and the union. And then in the middle of negotiations the company dropped a bomb. Thanks to NAFTA they were threatening to move plants to Mexico like so many other companies were doing. Just to make sure the union understood they were serious they showed the negotiators the future location as well as the factory blueprints.

The union was given a choice. The current workers could keep their wages and benefits the same but any new employees would have their pension cut and be paid half as much i.e. a two tier work force. Or the plant would be moved to Mexico and no one would have a job. One would think that their only consideration was themselves but the union also weighed the impact a plant closure would have on the community. The glory days had passed but if the one of the largest employers closed it would be the death knell for the local economy. After much fighting between local union members and the international union it was grudgingly decided to accept the new two tier contract.

In the ensuing years the contracts were written so that pre 97 workers wages were frozen while post 97 workers wages increased based on cost of living adjustments. In the last contract that was ratified in 2015 the COLA was taken away and the post 97 workers received set pay increases that by 2021 paid them the same as pre 97 workers. So after almost 25 years the lower tier has seen it pay increase to the same level as the higher tier. Or stated differently a pre 97 worker has lost over 35% of their earning power spread out over 20+ years.

In order to understand the pay rate I need to mention CIPP. It is literally a book written about how your base rate of pay is multiplied by your department’s efficiency. It’s a complicated formula but basically the more machines you can produce in less time or using less people will increase your efficiency therefore increasing your pay. By being smart, moving work around, eliminating waste and just plain old hard work a post 97 worker could almost earn what a pre 97 worker used to earn.

In my factory we had a department that was the model of how the union and company worked together to have a high paying CIPP department. Everyone came to work everyday and worked minimal overtime and safely produced machines with no defects and on schedule. The company got quality machines and made a profit and the workers were happy and well compensated.

Then one day the company decided to move that line to another area in the factory in order to make room for a new product. The line that moved produced 2 different products so it was split into 2 separate lines. Initially it made sense to the workers because each line could focus on 1 product which would make it easier to make efficiency gains. Only due to the way the CIPP rate was created by the company neither line ran at the same efficiency that the formerly combined line used to run at. What did this loss of CIPP rate mean to those workers? On average they were now earning $20,000 less per year. It was infuriating that before they might produce 20 machines using 20 people on 1 line whereas now you would have 2 lines producing 10 machines with 10 people each. The company got the same output with the same number of workers only now the workers were paid much less than before. It worked so well for the company that they moved even more departments and the ones that couldn’t easily move they just totally outsourced. To say that this demoralized the workforce is an understatement.

I could go on and on about CIPP but a fellow coworker summed it up best – “It is a carnival game that the company rigs in its favor.” There is nothing worse than being away from your family for 50-60 hours per week and risking your safety only to see your paycheck has a negative number on your CIPP line because you have to pay the company to raise your efficiency to 115%. (Like I said CIPP is complicated.)

After the 1997 contract even though the wages were now much less than they used to be the union would always hold firm when it came to health insurance. It was still a good benefit and most other companies couldn’t afford to provide the same excellent plans that John Deere did. Then Obamacare was passed and one of the rules that was included was the Cadillac Tax. Any plan that a company provided to their workers that was worth more than a certain amount would cause the company to pay a tax.

During the 2015 negotiations the company told us point blank that they will not be paying that tax so pick a plan that is under that threshold. That translated into a new plan with a narrow network and copays that increased 300-400%. Now the economists that created Obamacare stated when companies switched to cheaper plans they would share that savings with the workers. Yeah right. We didn’t see a dime of that money.

So what does a job at John Deere in 2021 now look like? What was once the best job to have is now no different than any other job. Being such a large employer in Iowa and Illinois everyone knows someone who has worked at John Deere so when word of mouth used to be about job openings it has switched to stay away from working there. All of the John Deere plants in the Quad-Cities, Waterloo and Des Moines have had job openings all year that they have been unable to fill. My plant is so desperate for help they have eliminated all job requirements meaning no need for a high school diploma or GED. They also no longer check for felonies or test for marijuana yet they still are unable to hire enough workers.

During the past 2 contract negotiations business slowed for Deere and Company resulting in hundreds of layoffs at contract voting time. Even though a member was laid off they could still vote and as a sweetener the company included a $3500 ratification bonus. So put yourself in a laid off worker’s shoes – you are out of work and don’t know when or even if you will be coming back to work. What do you care is in the contract because as long as it passes you will be getting $3500 dollars so you might as well vote yes.

And from the union side during the 2015 contract vote members were given 30 minutes to review any changes to the previous contract before voting yes or no. Ultimately the contract ended by passing by a little over 200 votes. (Far from prying ears some of us express our doubts)

Based on how the last contract passed the mood on the shop floor began to change. We began to prepare for the possibility that we will have to fight both the company and drag the union leadership kicking and screaming over to our side. What was once unthinkable was becoming the only possibility – we will have to strike in order to get both sides to listen to us. We began to save extra money and if needed line up side hustles to help get us through the upcoming trying times.

Every Wednesday the past 2 months throughout various factories we would wear our union shirts as a form of unspoken solidarity. We knew the strike was coming. The salary workers in the plants knew the strike was coming. (The salary workers are often treated as badly as the wage workers so secretly a majority of them are sympathetic to us.) The only ones unaware of what was about to happen was the corporate office and the union leadership.

So on October 1st the strike deadline passes and we are preparing to walk and then – a breakthrough. The company and union reached a last minute agreement and the old contract has been extended 15 days while we vote on the new contract. This time we made sure that we were given the new contract 48 hours in advance. Local union reps were available to explain any changes and answer any questions. And the most common question was “This is it?” There was nothing to address CIPP rates and the base pay rate included a raise that barely kept up with inflation. With an added kicker of a third tier of workers who would not even get a reduced pension.

During the voting we met with the negotiators and the frustration of the past 25 years of concessionary contracts finally boiled over. For the first time in 40 years we finally had a little bit of leverage on our side. The company has been unable to hire workers under the old contract because they took away so much from us. Everyone is weeks and sometimes months behind schedule due to the supply chain chaos yet Deere is the most profitable it has ever been. Now is the time to finally claw back some of the past losses but instead our negotiators came back with at best the status quo and recommended we accept what the company offered. Instead 90% of the members voted no.

Even though we disagreed with the union leadership the most maddening part is the company not accepting that they need to sacrifice a tiny sliver of their profits in order to attract and retain workers. We have sacrificed our health, our time with our families and hell even our dignity in order to keep this company running during these past few years and all we ask in return is our fair share.

So now we have to fight to get what we want. It is both exhilarating and scary but there is comfort in knowing we are not alone. I have worked at John Deere for 14 years and never appreciated the importance of a union until today. When we end a letter we would include a word but I never truly understand the significance of it but now I feel it in every bone in my body. That word is SOLIDARITY!

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  1. Randall Flagg

    Great post and I appreciate the history that brought you to where you are now!
    You are like the IM Doc of the shop floor. Good luck and be well.

    1. Christopher Horne

      I worked at Boeing 28 years. We had maybe 3 strikes in that time because
      Boeing needed to ‘stop the line’ because they were way behind. They had
      major supply chain delays, so they produced a contract ‘offer’ so vile we
      had to strike so that the global supply chain could catch up. Sound familiar?

  2. john

    There is an ad on the right side of my screen…it’s Vladimir Putin dressed in red, pointing his index finger at the reader with the slogan “The KGB wants YOU” written across the bottom. There is a link to a website “”. Click on the link and it goes to a WIX site stating the web address in not yet available.
    Counter-insurgents are working hard this morning.

  3. Jackiebass63

    Unfortunately his story is common to union workers in all areas. There has been a long campaign to destroy unions. Unfortunately it has worked very well. I belonged to the teachers union for my 35 years of teaching. The same was true in my union. A close friend was our union president. I remember him telling me the district negotiation team actually told the union that it didn’t have members support. In effect the union would have to settle for what they were offered. His advice about solidarity is very important. Unless workers are United they will lose out big time. Most corporations are only interested in profit and will do anything to have a bigger profit. It is hard for workers to be winners when the rules are rigged against them.

    1. XXYY

      Unfortunately it has worked very well

      Of course, it depends what you mean by working.

      It works in the same sense that not maintaining your house increases your cash flow, or putting all your expenses on a credit card increases your standard of living. It’s the kind of thing that looks good on the surface and seems effective for a while, but deep down everyone knows a huge bill is going to come due.

      Well, the 40-year, $50 trillion dollar elite frat party seems to be over. The power is out, the basement is flooded, a hurricane is coming, and the servants are all moving on.

      Dad is going to be really pissed!

  4. griffen

    Congratulations on standing up and using the position the workers find themselves now has the added element of leverage. In the past, I get the reasons why unions most likely had the lesser of evil choices. Please find encouragement to stand firm !

    The mendacity of corporate leaders and senior management is on display. They’ve collectively gotten their(s) for oh the last 30 years (or it certainly appears as such).

  5. KLG

    When I graduated from high school during Nixon’s final year as president, I got a job at a local heavy chemical plant as part of the “labor gang.” This meant that I dug holes with a shovel, drove a dump truck to pick up the trash, unloaded box cars full of 100-pound bags of sodium carbonate, and (safely) crawled into places that were unpleasant to do work that was essential. I was a G2 on a scale of G1-G13 (as part of the union contract, G1 was not used). I was 17 years old and making $42,000 a year adjusted for inflation (BLS Inflation Calculator). Relief operators at G13, who could do every production job in the plant, made about $140,000 in current dollars. Benefits were good. A 12-week summer could pay for a year of college at either of the state’s two flagship universities. A year could pay for the whole four years, if that was your goal. If you wanted to work until 55 and retire based on years + age, that provided a good life. With seniority came advancement, training to become a machinist, for example, provided. Jimmy Carter’s introduction of neoliberalization was about 5 years away at the time. This particular plant and the company that operated it are long gone, to South Asia mostly. Workers leaving high school today sometimes find a job at the local convenience store chain. For $8.50 an hour on a “flex” schedule that might include 30 hours per week, if they are lucky. What a wonderful world…

    1. Big River Bandido

      This sad story is replicated all over America. One of the most beautiful little towns in America was Galesburg IL, the home of Carl Sandburg and host to one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Galesburg is at the crossroads of two major rail lines; in my childhood it was also the site of a Maytag factory that employed thousands of people, and had a bustling downtown and prosperous retail district (think of the small town in A Christmas Story). NAFTA shipped that entire factory to Mexico and left Galesburg a shell. Maytag did the same with its plant in Newton IA.

      This is not accident, this is policy. It’s now “accepted practice” in every line of business and sanctioned at every level of government. The criminals who brought us these corrupt policies are still lauded as “leaders”.

      1. baldski

        And people wonder why the right wing is ready to accept an authoritarian strongman as leader? Democracy has failed them. They are ready to try something else.

  6. Mak

    What a depressing story.

    It is so sad how traditional companies in the USA will shoot themselves in the foot to continue screwing over their rank and file workers. Company management needs to recognise that the people at the ‘bottom’ are the ones doing the work. Often treating them well ensure a successful company. Tech companies have recognised this. Employers of the less education think they can get away with anything.

    Over here ‘down under’, we have plenty of problems but at least our rank and file workers are generally treated like people that deserve respect. This generally includes both pay and just general treatment. I work as an engineer and have good and direct rapport with those on the tools, I would consider it necessary and just simple respect.

    I also have a minimum wage job on the side. I keep it because I have no reason to quit a job I enjoy and I get treated just fine. Sure my hourly pay is over half, but variety is good.

  7. Tom Stone

    Never give up, fight Deere until they realize that paying a living wage and having decent benefits is the only way the Company can survive.
    Because it is.

  8. DJG, Reality Czar


    Thanks for the explanation of the CIPP, which probably came from management’s misreading of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Only a satire could come up with something so thoroughly bad–or U.S. economics textbooks, which have many grand explanations for why something like CIPP should be used, on other people.)

    Excise the CIPP. It’s wrecking your life and the Quad Cities.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      CIPP is piece-work with a little mathematical cover. And there’s a reason that piece-work is an abomination. It reduces the workplace to an even more brutal worker against worker struggle to survive. Thanks to computing power and the ever advancing science of human manipulation, we see the Ubers expand this concept far beyond any one factory. And the poor workers get to supply the capital while they’re at it!

      And thanks to TroyIA for getting us up-to-speed on what we hope are momentous events in the making. And kudos to the NC crew for bringing us this enjoyable and informative read.

  9. Eclair

    TroyIA, my mom’s family was union, from trades (electrical, carpentry) to my grandfather who worked as a blacksmith on the old B&M and retired with a decent pension and ownership of a three family house. My grandmother did not work outside the home after her marriage. I achieved their dream and became a college grad and, for a few decades, a ‘class traitor.’ I have repented.

    My father-in-law was a union trucker with the same history: decent wages with pension upon retirement, house and 3 acres of land, new car every few years, all on one salary. My spouse became an engineer, initially at McDonnell Douglas, where he was upset when his work colleagues voted to kick out their union.

    Now retired, we are bringing up the subject of unions in conversations with our friends and family, most of whom, alas, have been brain-washed to believe that unions are ‘bad.’ As we were.

    But unions alone won’t prevail; the US has to penalize US companies that close down manufacturing facilities and move to other countries, yet rely on US legal and regulatory structures to protect them.


    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      There should be a political party based on advocating for things like that. It would require years to get anywhere, but the current parties are actively trying to prevent us from getting anywhere good.

      1. Eclair

        Gosh, drumlin, a political party that advocates for the good of all the ‘essential’ workers, aka, farmers, truckers, nurses, teachers, transportation and communication and care workers, people that actually make and/or maintain stuff that we eat, wear, drink, live in. Count me in!

  10. The Rev Kev

    Many thanks for your informative post and I wish you well with your strike. Having salary people come down to the shop floor to do on the job training on building a tractor is about as desperate as you can get. Who would buy one of them? Maybe soon John Deere will ask for the National Guard to be called out. From what I have been reading about John Deere, I cannot think of a simple group that they have not alienated. They have done so to both their wage and salary workforce, their local communities, their shareholders cannot be happy with them and they have even alienated the farmers who buy their tractors.

    They may threaten to move to Mexico but I do not think that it would be difficult to really put John Deere in a really bad light and the Biden government would not be happy about such a development on their watch with the midterms fast approaching. That is something that could really rile voters that which they will do anything to avoid. Again, good luck with your fight and as Churchill once said-

    ‘Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.’

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Corporate support for Team Blue in recent years is heavily influenced by perceptions Hillary was inevitable. This isn’t the case anymore, and Biden has pretty much demonstrated he won’t hold anyone accountable. He’s treating Manchin and Sinema as anything other than terrorists. He covered for them earlier in the year when they both did performative actions, her egregious vote and his reading during the SOTU. They tested him and know Biden will simply back them through thick and thin. Deere can move and Biden will curl into a ball. It’s all he knows. Biden hasnt even fired generals for the withdrawal fiascos.

  11. Ken

    This does make me angry!! How can I best support your strike, monetarily or otherwise? I’m impressed with the 90% vote to reject, hope with that kind of solidarity you can prevail. Are they still threatening a factory in Mexico or is not feasible now?

  12. Gavin

    Now, in the 41st year of the Reagan Revolution, people are starting to realize that “unions keep us from prosperity” was then, is now, and will always be a flat-out lie for all salaried/hourly workers. That statement is basically valid only for the corporation’s board members, of course…

    And, Biden demonstrated that his verbal support for unions [although certainly more than past Ds] means zero in terms of actual policies put forth and thus real pushback on capitalists. He was simply attempting to identify a mob and run in front of it..

    I hope your negotiators in this situation demand and therefore achieve more than what you think you’d settle for.. And entirely replace the “leaders” of the union who are likely just as much a part of the problem as the Deere brass. One classic union-minimization technique is to bring the union leaders onto the corporation’s side.

  13. Huey Long


    Great post, and thanks for sharing. I’m also a union member and our contract is up at the end of 2022.

    Hopefully the stand that you and your brothers/sisters are undertaking now galvanizes the rank-and-file in my local and scares the hell out of the bosses so that we don’t end up out on strike like you all.

  14. lyman alpha blob

    Thanks for the update and good on the union for striking. Sounds like you have the rich C-suiters by the short hairs – grab on tight and don’t let go until you get paid.

    Solidarity brothers and sisters!

  15. TroyIA

    Thank you to everyone for your kind words and support. We have no illusions that this will be easy but knowing that there are many people who understand and support us will carry us through until the end.

    As for offering monetary or other kinds of support we have been totally overwhelmed by the local community. If you want to help just talk to your friends and family about how they can fight to improve their jobs and then point to us and say if the John Deere workers can do it then they can too. Solidarity.

  16. Big River Bandido

    Thanks to TroyIA — our fellow member of the NC commentariat — for this excellent piece!

    Having returned to Davenport nearly a year ago, after 30 years away, this account rings true to my impressions of the labor climate here, in both eras. An important point is that in this region of ~400,000 people, absolutely everyone knows *someone* who works at Deere. Likely, several someones. I haven’t even been back that long and I have connections; the company is that much intertwined with the local economy and culture. I asked one of my corporate contacts if the company was making them operate fork lift trucks and so on. All my contact would say was, “it’s a shit show here.” Which leads me to wonder…if that attitude is widespread among salaried employees, how many of them, fed up with their bosses and the stresses they’ve been under for months, would add to Deere’s troubles by quitting now?

  17. Dan

    I retired from Deere’s in 2003 and C.I.P.P. was the biggest reason why. Supposed to stand for continuous improvement pay plan but we had some other words for the acronym. Company in people’s pockets. Coming in people’s pants. Etc.

  18. Elizabeth

    Thanks for a great post. It sounds like the strikers have quite a bit of leverage, since JD is unable to find replacements. Thanks for mentioning how Obamacare destroyed your great healthcare benefit. Workers are being assaulted on multi fronts – govt., c-suites, and consumers who just want cheap prices. Solidarity! I see there is a strike fund to donate to. Consider it done.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Is there an address for that strike fund? TroyIA has told us what we can do that is more important than giving money to a strike fund, but if we do those more important things, then can it hurt to give money to a strike fund too?

      Something I wonder . . . . if millions of people found out about that strike fund and gave an aggregate total of hundreds of millions of dollars to it, would that visible mountain of money have a demoralizing effect upon the Deere leaders? Would that much money behind the strike amount to some weaponisable psychological warfare all by itself? And would it rattle the Overclass in general?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I don’t do digital things like Gofundme and PayPal and so forth. Is there a real physical address where a real physical check may be sent by USPS landmail?

  19. David in Santa Cruz

    When I read such a thoughtful and articulate discussion, it only solidifies my belief that the elites and their oligarch masters who disparage the American worker are an evil den of bullies, rapists, and thieves. Lock out the bosses!


  20. orlbucfan

    This is a tremendous, important read. Beautifully written. Thank you, TroyIA, and Yves for sharing it. Having spent my entire working life in a “Right to Work” aka “Right to Make Serfs” state, I am behind the union 1000%! Solidarity…you betcha!!

  21. Marc O

    Thanks for that very well written article. It really helped me understand why Deere is struggling to get workers in Dubuque too. I never did understand how the two tier system worked or how it was fair to employees.

    I see the Company’s point that they are having to compete with global firms who’s labor component is far less than theirs- and I see employees point of being very exasperated by having their earnings eroded away.

    I think both have been hurt by NAFTA and free trade. It isn’t right that Deere (and its union and non-union employees) has to compete with companies/people that manufacture in Mexico, China, India who’s cost is far less than Deere’s.

    Until that is corrected, I don’t think any of us will really see our real wages rise much.

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