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Labor Victories

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It’s been a good month for organized labor. Just a few of the victories.

Yesterday, John Deere workers approved a new contract with significant wage gains after a month long strike.

Workers at Deere & Co., the giant manufacturer of farm and construction equipment, ended a month-long strike that has come to symbolize a new era of labor militancy.

Their union, the United Auto Workers, said 10,000 members ratified a new six-year contract offer by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. They had rejected two previous offers.

The Deere strikes — the first at the company since 1986 — are a prominent symbol of the impact the pandemic has had on the economy. Nearly two years of lockdowns and economic tumult have sparked a wave of labor activism, causing many workers to push for better conditions.

“UAW John Deere members did not just unite themselves, they seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace. We could not be more proud of these UAW members and their families,” the union said in a statement.

Worker rebellions and strikes are hitting a variety of industries, including low-wage fast-food jobs, skilled manufacturing, health care and food processing.

Deere workers on strike near company headquarters in Moline, Ill. last week said they wanted recognition for the sacrifices they made during the pandemic, when many worked long shifts in face masks to keep churning out farm and construction equipment that had been declared essential to the economy.

The picketers won significant concessions since their strike began in mid October.

The first contract agreement reached between Deere and UAW negotiators, on Oct. 1, offered immediate raises of 5 to 6 percent, depending on the job, and an additional 3 percent in 2023 and 2025. It also proposed eliminating pensions for new hires. Workers rejected the offer by a wide margin.

The second agreement offered an immediate 10 percent raise and an $8,500 ratification bonus, plus 5 percent raises in 2023 and 2025. Deere workers rejected that one, too, but the vote was closer — 55 percent to 45 percent.

The latest contract made “modest modifications” to the second offer, UAW said. Workers said those included tweaks to how Deere calculates bonuses for workers who meet production targets.

Meanwhile, in the Northwest the first ever union contract in American fast food has been worked out.

After three years, multiple strikes and dozens of bargaining sessions, the Vancouver-based fast-food chain Burgerville has reached a tentative contract with the Burgerville Workers Union. It’s the first such labor contract in the nation’s fast-food industry, both parties said.

“What a great way to celebrate our 60th birthday year,” Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor said in a written statement. “I hope the agreement will be ratified quickly and a contract signed before the end of the year.”

Union organizer Mark Medina said he expects members to ratify the agreement by mid-December. Company leaders must also approve it.

The scrappy Burgerville Workers Union won federal recognition in 2018. It now represents workers at five of the company’s 40 locations in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Upon approval, Burgerville said it plans to extend the contract’s provisions to all employees, regardless of location.

The contract would codify some wage policies that began in 2019.

Starting wages at the company are currently $14.25 per hour, Burgerville said. Under the contract, the company’s starting wage would remain 25 cents above the minimum wage of Oregon or Washington — whichever is higher — until it reaches $15 an hour.

All restaurants would continue to allow tipping under the contract, which Burgerville said has boosted wages by an average of $2 per hour.

OK, I grant this is a pretty weak contract in terms of those wages. But still, the precedent matters.

Finally, a shout out to the workers of the Minnesota Historical Society. I have a lot of inside information from them. In response to racist Republicans being angry over MNHS talking about Native people, “leadership” over there has basically handed the museum over to them, throwing workers and anything even remotely “controversial” they were working on under the bus to appease people who Michelle Bachmann might find a bit too extreme. This in addition to treating its workforce like crap in the pandemic. So yesterday, they overwhelming voted to join AFSCME. Yay!

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