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More than 10,000 workers at Deere’s US factories went on strike on Thursday, marking the first major walkout at the tractor maker in 35 years after employees rejected a proposed labour agreement.

The United Auto Workers union said its members formally went on strike at midnight and began forming picket lines outside John Deere plants. The strike affected 14 facilities in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas.

Dozens of workers were picketing on Thursday morning at plants in Moline, Illinois, according to the Quad-City Times, a local media outlet. UAW Local 838, which represents workers at Deere’s biggest plant in Waterloo, Iowa, said on its Facebook page that members were to report to “strike duty” at 7am local time.

Brad Morris, vice-president of labour relations for Deere, said the company is “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.”

On a website for employees, Deere said some workers would be entering its factories daily to keep operations going. “Our immediate concern is meeting the needs of our customers, who work in time-sensitive and critical industries such as agriculture and construction,” it said.

Chuck Browning, UAW vice-president, said workers were striking for the “ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules.” Ray Curry, the union’s president, added that Deere employees have worked throughout the pandemic to produce essential farming, construction and energy equipment.

The UAW had tentatively agreed to a new labour contract two weeks ago, but a majority of its members turned down the deal in a ratification vote.

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