Deere wins injunction barring strikers from Davenport plant's property; seeks one for Ankeny plant
Deere & Co. won a temporary injunction against United Auto Workers strikers at its Davenport Works on Wednesday, barring them from trespassing on plant property, and filed a similar injunction request for its Des Moines Works in Ankeny.
A hearing on the Polk County case is set for Thursday.
In the injunction requests, Deere said UAW picketers at the plants have blocked entrances, harassed nonstriking employees, customers and suppliers and trespassed on Deere property, interfering with the operation of the plants and intimidating people trying to enter or exit them.
In the Davenport case, filed in Scott County, Chief District Judge Marlita Greve ruled that until the union and company reach an agreement settling the strike, strikers are barred from the plant's property.
Also in the order, Greve barred the union from "unlawful mass picketing and/or parading, verbal and physical harassment, intimidation, vandalism, blocking, or impeding human and vehicular traffic to and from Davenport Works."
The injunction in Davenport and the request for one in Ankeny came as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited with strikers Wednesday afternoon outside the Des Moines Works. The strike, which involves a total of more than 10,000 workers across a handful of states, began Oct. 14.
Greve gave the union three days to deliver sworn affidavits detailing what steps it will take to comply with the order. She also ordered the union to appoint a captain "who shall at all times be present at the picket line and who shall control the conduct of all pickets."
The order said no more than four pickets will be allowed at a gate at any given time. At Davenport, Greve said no picketing would be permitted at the contractor gate. Violations of the order are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
UAW officials declined a request for comment.
Jennifer Hartmann, a spokesperson for Moline, Illinois-based Deere, said in an email that the company "was granted an order for temporary injunction to maintain a safe environment for all our employees and contractors — including those reporting to work and those exercising their right to strike."
She did not respond to a question about whether Deere is seeking injunctions at other plants affected by the strike beyond Davenport and Ankeny. Deere has Iowa plants in Ottumwa, Dubuque and Waterloo, its largest. The strike also affects plants in Illinois and Kansas. Smaller strikes are underway at Deere plants in Georgia and Colorado.
The strike began after UAW members overwhelmingly rejected an initial contract offer Oct. 10. The union announced Monday that it had resumed negotiations with Deere, but there have been no reports of progress toward a new pact.
Issues, according to workers and union leaders, include their request that Deere eliminate a two-tier pay system, dating from 1997, that delivers less in wages and benefits to workers hired after it took effect. They also condemn as inadequate Deere's offer of 5% to 6% wage increases at a time when the company is reaping record profits, especially after they worked lengthy overtime shifts through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the rejected Deere contract called for eliminating pensions for workers hired after Nov. 1, instead making them eligible for a high-dollar-match 401(k) plan.
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, greeted about 75 picketers, shaking hands and speaking privately with several of them before telling the crowd he supports the union because UAW members backed him when he ran for governor.
“For too long in this country, we haven’t paid as much attention and respect to people that work with their hands,” he said.
He added that the country’s farmers rely on them and need Deere and the union to resolve the strike soon. He later told reporters he did not know what Deere had offered the workers in the initial contract, which they rejected by 90%.
“That’s not my job,” he said. “My job is to be here to basically support these folks. They earned what they’re going to get. This is a company obviously that’s done very well recently. They’ve got record profits.”
Deere is on pace to earn a record $5.7 billion to $5.9 billion this year. CEO John May received a 160% pay bump in 2020, earning $15.6 million.
Vilsack said he would be happy to discuss the dispute with May.
Earlier in the day, Vilsack, who is in Des Moines for World Food Prize events, visited Ames and Ankeny with Víctor Manuel Villalobos Arámbula, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture and rural development.
At the Ankeny farm, he acknowledged that farmers need equipment that could get delayed because of the strike.
Speaking to The Des Moines Register from his northwest Iowa farm, Kelly Nieuwenhuis said he supports the union workers.
“They’re the people who get the work done, and should be compensated fairly,” said Nieuwenhuis, who owns mostly Deere equipment.
Even with his support of workers, he added that farmers could get caught in the middle.
“I am concerned if it goes on too long, and we have a parts issue, we may need to look at other brands,” said Nieuwenhuis, who has about half of his corn crop left to harvest.
“The production issues just adds to it because of the strike,” said Nieuwenhuis. “It makes it a little more challenging.”
The O’Brien County farmer said he also understands that wage and benefit improvements could push equipment prices higher.
“It’s not like the company is going to absorb” the increased expense, he said, adding that his family has been lucky, with only minor breakdowns during harvest. “They’ve been simple fixes,” he said.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8457.
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at email@example.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Deere wins injunction barring strikers from Davenport plant's property; seeks one for Ankeny plant