OTTUMWA, Iowa — Workers at Ottumwa’s John Deere plant have officially traded the production line for the picket line.
More than 10,000 John Deere employees across the Midwest started to strike at midnight on Thursday after talks between the company and the United Auto Workers union broke down during the weekend. That includes about 1,000 employees at Ottumwa’s plant, which has been in operation since 1911.
“My grandfather started work here in 1935,” said employee Rick Boer, who claims four generations of his family have been employed at the factory. “This is Ottumwa. This plant has been here forever.”
It is also one of the two largest employers in Ottumwa, which has a population of only 25,000 people.
The picketers received support from passersby on their first day; cars honked their horns and some dropped off food for the workers. Ottumwa native Tony Fitzsimmons planned to just drop off water for the employees but instead picketed alongside them for hours.
“This is kind of a life-changing event. Without this, families are going to lose their home,” Fitzsimmons said. “It would help not only the workers but the community. The money they make here eventually goes back to the community.”
Boer said he and his co-workers are fighting to ensure his fellow employees have enough money to keep Ottumwa afloat and remain financially secure.
“What they’re doing to the new guys is terrible,” Boer said. “When they come in, they don’t even get a pension. After 30 years, they can just kick them out the door and say, ‘Bye.'”
The last time John Deere workers in the Midwest went on strike was in 1986. It lasted for more than four months.
Boer’s father participated in that strike, and he brought the sign his father used thirty-five years ago to the first day of the new strike. No one knows how long this strike will last, but Boer said he is prepared to picket for as long as his father did.
“Look at their backyard. We’re the ones that make your stuff,” Boer said. “We’ve earned it. Give it to us. End of discussion.”