Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren voiced her support Thursday for striking John Deere workers, saying that the recent spate of high-profile strikes signals a shift in the balance of power between business and workers.
“Workers have gotten the short end of the stick for decades now,” Warren told CNN in a phone interview. “And the government has stayed on the side of the giant corporations. That’s beginning to change.”
Earlier on Thursday, about 10,000 members of the United Auto Workers union went on strike against Deere, marking the biggest private-sector worker strike since the one against General Motors two years ago.
The Deere strike, reportedly the first at the farm equipment maker in 35 years, comes shortly after 1,400 members of a union went on strike against Kellogg, shutting plants where Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes and other cereals are made.
Thousands of health workers and nurses at Kaiser Permanente have reportedly authorized a strike. And unions representing some 60,000 film and television workers have voted to authorize a strike that could shutter Hollywood production as early as Monday.
“Workers know they are not just another input, as CEOs often call them. They are the heart and soul that keep businesses going,” Warren said.
Asked if she supports the striking Deere workers, Warren emphatically said, “Yes.”
‘People are tired of the concessions’
Ninety percent of the rank-and-file members of the UAW rejected a ratification of a tentative six-year contract the union reached with Deere. The main sticking point on the contract focuses on fairness for different workers having different pension plans, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich.
The strikes come during a time of booming profits in Corporate America — Deere’s net income for the first three quarters of the fiscal year ending November 1 is up 84% from the same period in 2019 — and record highs on Wall Street. Yet this is also a tricky time because businesses are struggling to find workers.
There is a near-record number of job openings in the United States right now, and the worker shortage is helping drive up inflation and buckling global supply chains.
“It’s a sign of the times, companies are flush with cash, there is a labor shortage, and people are tired of the concessions they have had to give and they know this is their time. Conditions are favorable for workers,” the person with knowledge of the negotiations told CNN.
A record 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, more evidence of the leverage workers have in today’s economy.
The rejected contract at Deere would have paid the average production worker about $72,000 at the end of the contract, compared with about $60,000 last year. The contract also included a return of a cost of living adjustment and improvements in benefits.
“We are determined to reach an agreement with the UAW that would put every employee in a better economic position and continue to make them the highest paid employees in the agriculture and construction industries,” Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for Deere, said in a statement. “We will keep working day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike.”
For Warren, the strikes are about ensuring that workers get their fair share.
“Workers recognize that when they come together through the union,” she said, “they can exercise real power and make certain that the profits of a business are shared more equitably between shareholders, executives and workers — who actually do the work.”
-CNN’s Chris Isidore and Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this report.
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