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U.S. ag secretary lends support to striking Deere workers

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Vilsack in ankeny strike

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack meets with UAW workers picketing outside a John Deere plant in Ankeny. 

ANKENY -- The country’s top agriculture official said in Iowa on Wednesday that he hopes Deere & Co. and its striking workers achieve a rapid resolution to their labor impasse.

But U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, also expressed his strong support, both in word and deed, for the striking workers and the union that represents them.

Wednesday was the seventh day of the impasse between Deere & Co. and Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). The strike affects about 10,000 workers at factories in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.

Vilsack held a number of public events Wednesday in central Iowa with his counterpart from Mexico, Víctor Manuel Villalobos Arámbula, to discuss international trade issues. After those events, Vilsack spoke to a few dozen striking workers on the picket line at Deere’s plant in Ankeny.

“(The striking workers) need somebody to give them a pat on the back,” Vilsack told reporters just after addressing some of those workers. “John Deere’s a great company. They ought to be able to get this worked out to a point where it’s fair to the workers, to make sure that we continue to have the equipment and farm machinery that’s important to American agriculture.”

While Vilsack spoke, cars driving by frequently honked their horns in support of the striking workers.

“You folks are hard-working folks. You provide a tremendous product. It’s one Americans rely on,” Vilsack told the striking workers. “It’s important, necessary for these issues to get resolved in a way that’s fair and equitable to all of you. … I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I haven’t forgotten you.”

Vilsack told the striking workers and reporters that UAW was a critical supporter of his first gubernatorial campaign, in 1998. He said the union supported him even when he was struggling in that campaign.

“The UAW was with me from the get-go. You don’t forget the people that were with you,” Vilsack. “The UAW is important to me, I sincerely hope that they get these things this resolved as quickly as possible and as fairly as possible.”

In early negotiations, Deere’s initial offer would have raised wages by roughly 5% over the life of the contract while also limiting retirement benefits for workers hired after the contract was ratified.

Deere workers said that offer was unacceptable, especially considering the company’s record-high profits over the past year. For the 2020 fiscal year, Deere & Co.’s net income totaled $2.75 billion, according to the company.

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