Strike Enters Sixth Month Amid Reports of Possible Break
MOLINE, Ill. (AP) _ A record-long United Auto Workers strike against financially hamstrung Deere & Co. entered its six month Friday, amid reports that there may be some movement toward settling the contract dispute.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary William Usery was helping mediate by shuttling between the two sides at an undisclosed location, according to unidentified sources quoted by WQAD-TV of Moline.
Nearly 13,000 UAW members at 13 Deere plants in Iowa and Illinois have been idle since the union struck three plants Aug. 23 and the company retaliated the next day by locking out workers at its 10 remaining farm-implement manufacturing sites.
Formal talks between the union and Deere management broke off Dec. 3.
But on Dec. 11, UAW Vice President Bill Casstevens presented the union’s case to Deere’s board of directors - two days after Deere announced it lost $230 million in fiscal 1986 ended Oct. 31.
It was the first loss since 1933 for the world’s leading maker of farm tractors and agricultural machinery.
Only the Moline-based company’s Horicon, Wis., factory, where consumer and lawn-care products are made, is operating, company spokesman Bob Shoup said Friday. He said about 1,000 International Association of Machinists workers at Horicon last month ratified a new three-year contract with Deere.
An Illinois judge earlier this week, in a hearing over whether the union had too many pickets at the company’s parts center south of Rock Island, suprised both sides by ordering them back to the bargaining table.
Circuit Judge David DeDoncker on Tuesday ordered the two sides to resume negotiations by Friday morning. But, a day later, he delayed that deadline until Feb. 2, at the request of lawyers for both the UAW and Deere.
Since then, the company and the union have said no official bargaining has been held or was scheduled.
But WQAD said it had learned that Usery, who was labor secretary under President Gerald Ford, met separately on Thursday with each side.
Before joining Ford’s Cabinet in the 1970s, Usery was director of the federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and helped settle more than 20 major labor disputes.
Neither the UAW, Deere, nor Usery’s Washington-area office would confirm whether he had become involved in trying to end the five-month-old strike or whether the union and company were meeting separately or together.
Meanwhile, WHBF-TV and radio in Rock Island said one of its union sources told it that Usery was meeting in Detroit with the two sides. It said the union team was led by Casstevens, who joined resumed contract talks in Moline in the fall after they earlier had broken down.
At that time, Deere management said that $17 million over a three-year period separated the two sides. Shortly after the strike occurred, the company had complained that the union’s contract demands would cost about $100 million too much over the same period.
The strike is the longest in the company’s history. The previous record job action at Deere was 110 days in 1950.