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Sanders Rails Against John Deere Threat to Striking Workers’ Health Coverage

The farm equipment manufacturer plans to force 10,000 striking workers and their families off their health insurance.

Workers picket outside of John Deere Harvester Works facility on October 14, 2021, in East Moline, Illinois.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was among the labor advocates in Congress on Tuesday who condemned reports that farm equipment manufacturer John Deere plans to force 10,000 striking workers and their families off their health insurance plans next week — a punitive measure to coerce the employees into ending their strike over what they say is an unfair contract.

The Vermont independent senator called the company’s plan “beyond outrageous,” noting that John Deere’s profits have gone up by 67% in the past year, with a net income between $5.7 and $5.9 billion.

“Workers must be allowed to keep their healthcare during the strike,” Sanders said.

Unionized John Deere employees in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), went on strike last week over plans to end pensions for newly-hired workers and pay raises amounting to only 5% to 6%, despite the company’s skyrocketing profits and a 160% boost in CEO John May’s compensation since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The strike is part of what labor advocates have called “Striketober.” In recent days, 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente have voted to authorize a strike if the company keeps its tow-tiered wages and benefits system, while over 1,400 Kellogg’s workers remain on the picket line and local unions nationwide are in various stages of authorizing work stoppages.

Jonah Furman of Labor Notes reported last Friday that striking John Deere workers have learned the company will cut them off from their health insurance plans starting October 27, weeks after Congress allowed COBRA subsidies to expire.

“They could just as easily not do this, but they want to break the strike,” Furman said.

At Common Dreams last week, Mark Dudzic, chair of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, wrote that Striketober and corporation’s strike-breaking efforts bolster the case for Medicare for All.

“From cereal makers in Michigan to hospital workers in Buffalo, unionized workers are going on strike and rejecting contracts that shift the burden of pandemic recovery onto their backs,” wrote Dudzic. “Taking healthcare off the bargaining table by making it a right for everyone in America would vastly increase workers’ bargaining power and make it easier for workers to stand against vicious union-busting attacks.”

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