In This Episode
- Thousands of John Deere workers are on strike after the company and the United Automobile Workers union failed to negotiate a new contract. Jonah Furman, a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes, joins us to discuss what led to the Deere strike and the national movement by workers demonstrating for better pay and rights.
- And in headlines: the Haitian gang that abducted 17 people has asked for $1 million per person in ransom, Brazil’s Senate calls for homicide charges against President Jair Bolsonaro for his handling of COVID-19, and the January 6th House commission holds Steve Bannon in criminal contempt.
- Jonah Furman’s Substack, “Who Gets The Bird?” – https://whogetsthebird.substack.com/
- Labor Notes – https://labornotes.org/
- A More Perfect Union on Deere strike – https://twitter.com/MorePerfectUS/status/1450093618962878467
Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, October 20th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, reminding you that today is the last day for you to order a Slimer costume off the internet if you want it to arrive by Halloween.
Gideon Resnick: That is true, yes, of other costumes as well, but we specifically want to look out for our Slimer heads.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I actually ordered mine back in February.
Gideon Resnick: I never take mine off. On today’s show, the kidnapers of 17 missionaries in Haiti ask for a $17 million ransom, plus the January 6 commission hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, it is being called “Striketober.” Strikes and strike authorizations seem to be sweeping the country. There are also unionization efforts across tons of sectors. There are TV and film crew workers at the Union IATSE, which we’ve talked about a lot on the show. Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, health care workers at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, and more. And we’re going to take a closer look at another major strike. Some 10,000 John Deere workers, mostly in Iowa and Illinois, are on the picket line.
[voice clip] We put in the hours, we make the product, and they are making billions of dollars on our back.
[man] All these people have been in there during the whole COVID pandemic, coming to work in every day, you know, with the potential of exposing themselves and their families, you know, to this, but they came in and worked anyway. Do I see Deere and company, you know, kind of recognizing that and trying to reciprocate in any sure way? No, I don’t.
Josie Duffy Rice: That was workers talking to the outlet, A More Perfect Union in a video that we can link to. So Gideon, how did this all start?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So this all began last Thursday, when workers rejected this tentative agreement that was reached between the company and the United Automobile Workers Union, and by a pretty large margin here too: some, 90% voted it down. And one of the key concerns here, as it often is, pertains to wages. So John Deere’s offer to workers doesn’t match even just the rise in inflation. And that is, while the company is set to make a record $6 billion this fiscal year—they are not hurting in any financial sense. And another major issue is health care and pension benefits post retirement. So unlike veteran employees who are there, workers that were hired after 1997 have no health care benefits when they retire and significantly lowered pensions, which would in fact have been gone for all new hires under the proposal that just got voted down.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Well, I mean, how are they supposed to provide pensions when they only have six billion dollars in profit? So Gideon, you wanted to learn more about this effort at John Deere and how it plays into the labor movement across the country? Is that right?
Gideon Resnick: Yes. So I talked one on one earlier with Jonah Furman. He’s a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes, which I think is a really indispensable publication. And he also has a separate Substack that’s called “Who Gets the Bird.” We spoke on Monday about how failed contract negotiations led to the Deere strike, what’s at stake here, and where this fits into all workers who are unionized or not, trying to get a better living from their jobs?
Jonah Furman: The contract goes down by 90%, which is just almost unprecedented, and turnout is 90%. So it’s not like it’s a small, active group that really didn’t like it. It’s like really widely felt and deeply felt that this contract is inadequate. You know, like when you build up that much, there is a lot of pressure for, you know, unless it’s a really good agreement we’re going to go. We’re ready to go. And it’s the first strike a Deere in 35 years. There’s very few people, if I mean, maybe there were some who are there in ’86 to ’87, when the last strike happened. A lot of people were there with their parents, who also worked at Deere. So you’ll hear from members who say, I walked this line when I was a kid, basically a teenager.
Gideon Resnick: You know, how has the company pushed back? How are people feeling right now? What is the sense on the line?
Jonah Furman: These are 24-7 picket lines at as many of the plant gates as possible. So there’s 14 facilities in the main agreement. The goal is for the picketers to cover all the entrances at once. And you know, picketing in these strikes is an interesting mix. You’re trying to discourage people from crossing the picket line. So sometimes that’s literally a picket line that’s like the car can’t get through. And you know, there’s rules about how much you’re allowed to obstruct and all that, you can’t touch the car, things like that. Sometimes it’s there’s, you know, a freight truck driver is trying to drop off a bunch of machinery and you are saying, we’re on strike, please don’t cross, you know, don’t do business with this company. As for what the company is trying to do, what’s been really interesting reporting on this is that a ton of salaried employees have been reaching out to me. And these are, you know, that’s traditionally how people define the difference between the union factory floor production workers and skilled trades workers versus people who are paid on a salary basis. And some of these are totally white collar type accounting, you know, office workers. Some of them are more like engineers and they have some experience with the machinery itself. But there’s been overwhelming support, private support from these workers for the strike, and they’re sending me both how they’re feeling and they’re also very courageously sending me things that the company is saying internally to them. So the company has a, you know, they call it a customer service continuation plan, which is a plan to break the strike and they plan to use the salaried employees to have some level of operations keep going so they can keep some product moving and some money flowing through the company. But it does not seem to be going well. It’s not clear whether Deere plans to hire scabs in the traditional sense of replacement workers who actually are trained in factory work and skilled trades. For now, they’ve mostly reassigned their own employees. And I’ll just say a word about these folks. You know, they’re nonunion, but it’s not like they’ve got a great situation. Deere reorganized in 2020, as they call it, which meant shifting a ton of people into new positions on the salaried side. So you’re in a different, you’re doing a different job than what you signed up for already. And they had hundreds of voluntary separation agreements, which is, you know, buyouts or layoffs, how ever you want to describe it. Which means they’re now trying to break this strike with a super reduced workforce, people who are not trained to do the work and there’s already been safety issues in the plants of people on the picket line can hear alarms going off. There’s an ambulance coming into the plant. Someone sent me an internal report of someone crashed a tractor into a pole inside the facility.
Gideon Resnick: Whoa.
Jonah Furman: Damaging the tractor ad the pole, you know? So it’s really not a good situation in those plants right now. And a lot of these salaried workers are writing to me about how agonizing it is to be, you know, the third generation Deere workers, their parents might have been in the union. They don’t want to, you know, go against these, these are essentially their coworkers in some respect. They don’t want to break the strike, but they have no union protections. They’re not unionized so they really have very little recourse. It’s essentially cross the picket line or lose your job forever. And there’s a lot of talk among these workers saying, December 15th, I’m getting the bonus and I’m done. If we’re still doing this, I’m out.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Jonah Furman: And that’s if they last that long. They’re working six days a week, 12-hour days.
Gideon Resnick: How, if at all do you see Deere as being connected to Kaiser, being connected to IATSE, other strikes that are in the works? Is it an untold story as to where the through lines are there? Is it’s simply just wealth inequality exacerbated? Or are there different issues at play? What’s been your thesis there so far?
Jonah Furman: This is a really exciting moment for the U.S. labor movement, for the U.S. worker, because it feels like things are coming back to life. Contextually, we really are not at huge strike levels yet. We’re at these levels of really prominent inspirational action that are really lining up and creating a moment, you know, Striketober, as people say. But just for context, you know, in 1945 46, something like 1 in 10 workers went on strike in that, in that strike wave. If IATSE still strikes, which seems like a big if, we might get over 100,000 workers in this period, which, you know, 1 in 10 workers in the U.S. right now would be something like 17 million workers going on strike. So we’re not close to historical strike waves. That said, context and timing is really important. I think one dynamic that’s happening here is this is the organized version of the unorganized mass quitting that we’ve been seeing, you know, people, economists have said we’re at a record number of people leaving their job. And you know, you’ll see on TV, people put a piece of paper up at Taco Bell saying: everybody quit today. You know? It’s over. This is the version of it where you say: well, I have a union, so we don’t have to quit, I don’t have to just leave dear. Although that does happen. You know, people, they are having real trouble hiring people. But when you have a structure like that, this is the collective version of “I quit.” This is, we’re going to stay and change this job. You know, so whatever it is at the base that’s causing people to not accept the status quo of the workplace, this is the union version of it. So that’s one thing. I think related to that is, you know, historically, we’ve seen after really intense times like after World War I, after World War II, people call these like release-valve moments, where the working class has gone through hell in some way, you know? In World War II is that there was wage caps and shortages, and you know, everything about working in World War II was really hard. There was no strike pledges that unions signed and and serious laws around that stuff. And after World War II people said, OK, we won the war, it’s time, we worked hard and now we’re ready to collect, right, on our side of the deal. And then you saw the largest strike wave in US history. I think the pandemic is we’re getting to a moment, you know, workers at John Deere have these T-shirts that say: Essentially in 2020, prove it in 2021. So these workers are directly connecting the idea that they got us through the pandemic. And John Deere, you know, this is without John Deere, you don’t have agriculture, don’t have food production in this country. So you’re really talking about essential services. I think Kellogg’s workers and the other Nabisco food production people feel that as well. And so do nurses. There’s 2,000 hospital workers in Buffalo on strike right now, and there’s 40,000 who are moving in that direction at Kaiser in several states on the West Coast, so I think that’s a huge dynamic to this, you know, Striketober as well.
Gideon Resnick: And that was my conversation with Jonah Furman of Labor Notes, Josie.
Josie Duffy Rice: So Gideon, was there anything else that really got your attention when you talked with him about sort of the labor movement overall?
Gideon Resnick: One other thing that he and I were talking about a little bit is this idea of the tier pay structure-type thing and this notion of people that came in before these new hires actually wanting to sort of have a sense of solidarity and not establishing some other third tier for people coming in and getting even less and, you know, getting screwed by the company. So that was another element of it that seemed to really show the solidarity that’s happening there.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s great to hear. We’re going to link to Jonah’s publication in our show notes where you can find more on this story, as well as other developing labor stories like a potential strike among health care workers at Kaiser Permanente. More on this soon, but that’s the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are discussing a man who got an early start on Halloween: Kanye West was photographed wearing a full coverage rubber mask yesterday while meeting in New York with former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is currently under house arrest. A totally normal thing to tell someone. Cohen later told reporters that the mask was to keep people from recognizing Kanye and said he’d be just another one of the countless New Yorkers who walk the streets every day, dressed like they’re about to rob a bank, be in the purge, or go to work as a mannequin. Ultimately, it’s not clear which part of the story is more off-putting: Kanye is featureless beige mask or his friendship with Michael Cohen. Cohen did sum up the meeting by saying quote, “We were just getting together.” So Josie, what is your reaction to all of this?
Josie Duffy Rice: You know, when I first saw the photo, I thought Michael Cohen was meeting with Scott Storch, and then I thought, maybe it was Donald Trump under the mask. So when I actually found out it was Kanye West, it was actually a little relieved. What did you think?
Gideon Resnick: I’m imagining, the person that got Trump to put that mask on and to also wear the outfit that Kanye’s wearing, which like if I remember correctly, just offhand, it’s like he’s got like, you know, black pants on, like black boots, like a black hoodie jacket-type situation.
Josie Duffy Rice: Totally.
Gideon Resnick: That’s way funnier, [laughs] just like somebody got Trump to—
Josie Duffy Rice: It would not have, like, made a lot of sense, but it would have made sense in the way that, like nothing about any of these three people makes sense, you know?
Gideon Resnick: Oh, totally, totally. He has been wearing a series of different kinds of more, like not breathable, elaborate masks as of late. Like, they either sort of tilt uncanny valley or they tilt to like Monster. So I’m, you know, personally excited to see, you know, what he decides to put on next. And with whom, you know, is this a special Michael Cohen treat, this mask? Or is this something that he might use in a separate meeting? We don’t know.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. I’m wondering if we should start like a Kanye West mask charity account, where we can all just donate like our used masks, and he will have just like a plethora to pick from.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, he should have both the mask from the movie “The mask”—
Josie Duffy Rice: Yes! Need that.
Gideon Resnick: In which you need that would turn into a large green man in a yellow suit, and also the mask from the Goosebumps episode in which he would, I think, also be a large green person as well, but with a kind of scarier face. Either way, just like that we have checked our temps. They are warm because we are behind large rubber masks at the moment, but we’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: The Haitian gang that abducted 17 people affiliated with a Christian missionary group has asked for $1 million per person for their release. According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, the group responsible is known as 400 Mawozo, and the country’s Justice Minister said the FBI and Haitian police are in touch with them in an effort to get the hostages released. The minister also said, per multiple reports, that there are five children among the group in question, including an infant. And that efforts are being made for release without paying the ransom. The director of a human rights group in Haiti told the New York Times that the gang had expanded its reach in the months of political upheaval that followed the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, and that they accounted for 60% of the over 200 kidnappings that were recorded between July and September. In one such incident earlier this year, the gang reportedly kidnaped five priests and two nuns, who were held for three weeks prior to their release. Per the Wall Street Journal, it’s not clear if a ransom was paid there. We’re going to keep following this story as it develops.
Gideon Resnick: Here is what is new in Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s love-hate relationship with COVID: a congressional panel in the country is set to recommend mass homicide charges against him, by alleging that he let hundreds of thousands of people die in pursuit of herd immunity. In an extremely crowded field, Bolsonaro probably takes the title of world leader who did the most to make the pandemic worse. For example, he compared the virus to a cold, discouraged masks, encouraged mass gatherings while cases were peaking, refused to get vaccinated, and pushed drugs like hydroxychloroquine long after Trump had moved on from them. Following a six-month investigation, a Senate committee comprised of seven anti-Bolsonaro senators and four others, determined that Bolsonaro’s actions amounts to murder quote, “by omission.” The committee also recommended charges for genocide against indigenous groups in the Amazon, where hospitals ran out of oxygen, and crimes against humanity. The charges probably won’t stick. They’d have to be approved by Brazil’s Lower House of Congress, which is controlled by Bolsonaro’s supporters. But with an election next year and the president’s popularity plummeting, they are not good news for him either.
Josie Duffy Rice: The man who is the physical embodiment of the dark side of vacation, Steve Bannon, was held in criminal contempt yesterday by the House committee investigating the January 6th Capitol riot. Bannon is one of four former Trump White House officials who were subpoenaed to testify with instructions from Trump not to cooperate. So far, Bannon has been the only member of this group to explicitly say he won’t comply. Trump has been trying to keep his presidency’s records of that day sealed as well by claiming executive privilege. And on Monday, he filed a lawsuit to block the release of those documents. When she voted in favor of contempt for Bannon, Republican committee member Liz Cheney argued that those moves don’t necessarily reflect well on him and Trump.
[clip of Sen. Liz Cheney] Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do, however, appear to reveal one thing: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th, and this committee will get to the bottom of that.
Josie Duffy Rice: Steve Bannon could face a fine and up to 12 months in prison for being in contempt, but first, the charge has to be voted on by the full House before getting referred to the Justice Department. Even then, the process is rarely invoked and seldom leads to jail time.
Gideon Resnick: Still stuck on dark side of vacation, I gotta—that put me at a wormhole [unclear] I need to go back and read the rest of the story. It turns out that pro sports players are just like anyone else when it comes to the things they buy off the dark web to avoid safe medicine. That’s because Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks got suspended this week for providing his league with a counterfeit vaccine card. The National Hockey League does not have a vaccine mandate for players, but being unvaccinated does come with extra restrictions. Those were restrictions that Kane managed to avoid while still keeping his blood antibody free just by, you know, probably using Western Union to send $400 to a man with an Epson all-in-one printer and scanner. Kane has been given a 21-game suspension, which will cost him almost $1.7 million. The vaccine is free, I just want to add. He apologized for quote, “violating the NHL COVID protocols” but declined to get specific. And during his time on the Sharks, Kane has faced two more severe accusations, neither of which could quote, “be substantiated by the league.” He was accused of committing domestic violence against his wife, as well as betting on and fixing his own games.
Josie Duffy Rice: He’s really had a banner year, and I do not mean the good kind of banner year.
Gideon Resnick: No, not at all. All of the stuff being among like the first or two Google results for your name . . .
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Gideon Resnick: Not great.
Josie Duffy Rice: Not great. Not great. Your whole thing about being a professional athlete is that it’s supposed to be about you being a professional athlete, you know?
Gideon Resnick: Exactly, exactly. I just want to say again, like the vaccine is free. And those are the headlines. That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, don’t fall prey to the dark side of vacation, and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just the return policy on Slimer like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I will never return my Slimer costume. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And be yourself, Kanye.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I guess. Sure.
Josie Duffy Rice: I mean, one thing you can say about him, he is consistently himself.
Gideon Resnick: He, you know, that is the truth. He does not need any more encouraging.
Josie Duffy Rice: He does not. Yeah, he’s pretty much doing it.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media,. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and Me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.