Worker mows grass on National Mall

A worker mows the grass on the National Mall on May 20, 2024.

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Biden Urged to 'Put Up a Major Fight' Over Mass Layoffs at John Deere

One labor advocate implored the president to "put the heat on John Deere and show the working class that you're tougher than Trump when it comes to saving American jobs."

A slew of recent layoffs at John Deere factories in Iowa and Illinois would appear to provide a perfect opportunity for President Joe Biden to speak out against the kind of corporate greed that is devastating the U.S. working class and supercharging inequality.

But Biden has thus far been quiet about the mass layoffs, which have impacted roughly 1,000 workers and sparked fear among unaffected employees that they might be next.

Deere & Company is the latest U.S. corporation to announce significant layoffs after raking in huge profits and spending billions on stock buybacks—which researchers have linked to job cuts—as well as dividend payouts to wealthy shareholders and lavish CEO compensation.

"Here we go again," Les Leopold, executive director of the Labor Institute, told Common Dreams. "Stock buybacks and mass layoffs, mass layoffs and stock buybacks. Tens of thousands of workers are losing their jobs in thousands of companies only because CEOs and their major stockholders want to make a quick killing by artificially jacking up the price of their stock. We must always call stock buybacks for what they really are: blatant stock manipulation."

"Today, 70% of all corporate profits are used for stock buybacks, up from 2% in 1982," Leopold added. "They should be outlawed."

As The Guardian's Michael Sainato reported last week, John Deere posted "a profit of over $10 billion in fiscal year 2023 and its CEO John May received $26.7 million in total compensation."

"John Deere spent over $7.2 billion on stock buybacks in 2023 and provided shareholders with more than $1.4 billion in dividends," Sainato noted.

In a letter to employees late last month, John Deere executives deployed sterile corporate-speak to explain their rationale for the job cuts, writing that rolling mass layoffs are aimed at "aligning our workforce to our strategic priorities" and "eliminating low- and non-value-added tasks, activities, and expenses."

One longtime John Deere worker in East Moline, Illinois anonymously told The Guardian that "we get wind of more layoffs daily, it seems, and it's causing uncertainty all over."

"The only reason for Deere to do this," the worker added, "is greed."

UAW Local 838 president Tim Cummings issued a statement last month calling on John Deere to "stop outsourcing and bring these products back to our factories and allow our talented workforce to produce these products at home where they are used by North American farmers and businesses."

"Biden should let Deere know that they can't continue to receive taxpayer money if they ship taxpayer-funded jobs to Mexico."

Biden—whose 2024 reelection bid was endorsed by the United Auto Workers, the union that represents more than 10,000 John Deere employees in the U.S.—has vocally criticized stock buybacks and proposed quadrupling the current 1% tax on share repurchases to discourage the practice. The president has also pledged to fight corporate profiteering that has driven up costs for consumers and harmed workers.

But Leopold, the author of "Wall Street's War on Workers: How Mass Layoffs and Greed Are Destroying the Working Class and What to Do About It," wrote in a Wednesday op-ed for Common Dreams that Biden should explicitly target John Deere and "put up a major fight" to stop the company from sending U.S. jobs to Mexico.

"The real motivation for Deere to can workers and flee to Mexico is to finance $12.2 billion in stock buybacks," Leopold argued. "What are stock buybacks? A way to boost the price of the company's shares—a blatant form of stock manipulation that was illegal until deregulated by the Reagan administration."

Leopold urged Biden to "take a page from the Trump playbook," pointing to the former president's public claims during the 2016 campaign and later in the White House that he would prevent Indianapolis-based Carrier Air Conditioning from offshoring more than a thousand jobs to Mexico.

Trump's deal with Carrier did not save all the jobs that were on the chopping block, nor did it stop other Indiana companies from offshoring operations. But Leopold noted that "Trump's effort was extremely popular"—including among those who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election—and could hold lessons for the incumbent president.

"Why did Carrier give in?" Leopold asked. "As its president said, 'I was born at night but it wasn't last night. I also know that about 10% of our revenue comes from the U.S. government.'"

Like Carrier, John Deere is a beneficiary of federal contracts and subsidies. The company's website states that it "manufactures every kind of power generating, land-moving, base-building, grass-cutting, people-transporting equipment you can imagine" through contracts with the Air Force procurement office, Defense Logistics Agency, and General Services Administration.

"Biden should let Deere know that they can't continue to receive taxpayer money if they ship taxpayer-funded jobs to Mexico," Leopold wrote Wednesday. "He might even threaten to use the Defense Production Act to prevent the move. He should pressure them to accept a 'no compulsory layoff' agreement. If they want to lay off workers, it must be voluntary. The company should offer pay and benefit packages so that workers agree to leave. Clearly, Deere has more than enough money, given what they're pumping out in stock buybacks."

"Come on Joe, go to bat for these workers. Put the heat on John Deere and show the working class that you're tougher than Trump when it comes to saving American jobs," he added. "Your election and the future of our democracy may depend upon it."

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