© Reuters. Striking members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) picket line at the Deere & Co agricultural machinery plant ahead of US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's visit to Ankeny, Iowa, USA, October 20, 2021. REUTERS / Scott Morgan
By Tom Polansek
ANKENY, Iowa (Reuters) – US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited striking union members outside a Deere (NYSE 🙂 & Co Iowa agricultural machinery plant on Wednesday and told workers that he supports them and the country needs them.
Deere workers, represented by United Auto Workers (UAW), join thousands of other US workers who have gone on strike in recent months demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
Encouraged by a tight labor market and an administration they believe unionized, workers say the strikes are fueled in part by frustration over cuts in health and pension benefits at a time when their employers are reporting record-breaking returns.
"They work hard and deserve a fair price and a fair deal," Vilsack told Picketers. He said he would like to tell Deere Chief Executive Officer John May the importance of resolving the dispute quickly and fairly.
In August, the company raised its earnings forecast for the full year in response to strong demand.
Deere officials have repeatedly stated that they want to end the strike and maintain their employees' status as the highest paid in the industry.
The strike at Deere, the largest US agricultural machinery manufacturer, began on October 14th after 90% of hourly workers turned down the company's contract offer. Around 10,000 employees at 14 US locations are currently on strike.
The strike takes place in the middle of the US corn and soybean harvest as farmers struggle to find parts for tractors and combines.
"We take care of the farmers," said Keith Chada, a UAW committee member who was at the Ankeny plant.
"Ultimately, we want to send our kids to college and be able to afford the things these people on the other side can afford."
When Vilsack drove up in an SUV, demonstrators waved blue and white signs in front of the plant that read “UAW is on strike”. Drivers honk supportively as they drive past.
Vilsack shook hands and wished the demonstrators good luck. At one point he pulled a lifetime honorary membership card of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees from his pocket.
"It means a lot that he came out to support us," said Justin Limke, a UAW Local 450 vice president who works as a painter at the plant.
The visit recalled Vilsack's political past in 1998, when the then Senator for the State of Iowa lagged behind in the gubernatorial race.
"The UAW was with me from the start," said Vilsack. "You don't forget the people who were with you."
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