MOLINE, Ill. -- A top negotiator for the striking United Auto Workers offered little hope for a quick settlement after emerging today from a rare meeting with the Deere & Co. board of directors.
'The board was very courteous, they listened very attentively to our presentation,' said UAW officer Bill Casstevens after a 50-minute closed door meeting with the directors. 'They asked questions to make sure they understood our position.'
The only action to come after the board meeting was a vote by the directors to cut dividends in half from 12.5 cents to 6.25 cents due to recently-announced record losses from the 111-day-long strike.
Casstevens said the meeting should have cleared up any misunderstandings the company might have had about the union position but was pessimistic about the meeting's effect on ending the strike.
'We went in there to make sure they knew exactly where the union stood on this proposal because we have believed for a long time now that company negotiators have been making worst case scenarios out of all of our proposals,' he said.
He added that the company losses were to be expected in light of the long strike.
During the meeting with the board, Casstevens made a case for a new contract based on a 1983 settlement where Caterpillar workers went on strike and Deere employees settled for concessions. He said Deere got the advantage then and this time around should be willing to help workers.
'Caterpillar was losing money in 82-83 and Deere was making money. We had negative adjustments at Caterpillar and when we came here, Deere insisted on having all of those negative adjustments and they were right and we gave them to them,' the union officer said. 'Now that it's the other way around we're asking for a settlement that is no more costly than what we did at Caterpillar.'
Deere spokesman Bob Shoup issued a statement in reply to the Casstevens argument saying a five-year slump in farm equipment sales was well underway by the time of the 1983 contract and while Deere made money he said 'things were not so good for us in 1982 either.'
The unusual address to the directors by Casstevens came on the same day the labor dispute became the longest strike ever against the giant farm implement maker.
The 111-day strike-lockout today surpassed a 1950 UAW dispute that was the longest strike against the Moline-based firm. Jim Hecker, a UAW representative in Moline, called the milestone 'a dubious honor.' Deere agreed to Casstevens' request last week to be allowed to address the board with the condition that a Deere representative would be allowed to appear at a meeting of the union's executive council.
Hecker said the face-to-face meeting between Casstevens and the Deere board was sought to allow the union to 'explain to the board our position so we, hopefully, can break the logjam of negotiations.'
The labor dispute, which has idled about 12,500 workers in Iowa and Illinois, began Aug. 23 when contract talks broke down and the UAW called a selective strike at Deere plants at Milan, Ill., and Waterloo and Dubuque in Iowa. The strike later was expanded to a John Deere parts company in East Moline.
Deere responded by declaring that a strike against one company plant was viewed as a strike against all and told union workers at 11 other plants not to show up for work, a move the union characterized as a lockout.
Talks have resumed twice since then but have broken down without an agreement -- the last impasse occurring last Wednesday when the two sides called off negotiations separated by issues involving about $17 million. At issue are job security, pension benefits and cost-of-living increases in a proposed 34-month agreement.