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UAW worker killed in a vehicle accident while walking to a John Deere picket line in Milan, Illinois

The UAW GM National Council will vote on a new tentative deal Thursday in a potential end to the national strike that has idled GM plants.
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A UAW member and John Deere employee was struck by a vehicle and killed early Wednesday morning while walking to the picket line in Milan, Ill. Union leaders and John Deere are voicing their sadness and sharing their condolences.

Early Wednesday morning, a 56-year-old union member and John Deere employee was killed in a traffic accident while walking to the picket line in Milan, Ill, the UAW announced Wednesday. The worker was fatally struck by a vehicle before dawn while crossing the Rock Island Milan Parkway, according to a statement from John Deere.

The man was a member of UAW Local 79 and had worked at the Milan John Deere Parts Distribution Center for 15 years, according to the union.

UAW leaders and John Deere put out statements saying they’re saddened by the loss and their condolences go out to the worker’s family, friends and colleagues.

“On behalf of the UAW and all working families, we mourn the passing of our UAW brother,” UAW President Ray Curry said in a written statement. “It is a somber time to lose a member who made the ultimate sacrifice in reporting to picket for a better life for his family and coworkers.”

Ron McInroy, director of UAW Region 4, which includes Iowa, said he was “heartbroken” by the news and that the worker “was fighting for what is right."

“We are saddened by the tragic accident and death of one of our employees who was struck by a vehicle before dawn this morning while crossing the Rock Island Milan Parkway. All of us at John Deere express our deepest condolences to their family and friends,” reads a statement from John Deere. “We have no further details as we await reports from law enforcement.”

A message from Local 79 President Sherrard Robinson said all picketing duties were canceled for the rest of the day due to the tragedy.

Other union members and leaders took to social media to honor the worker and voice their solidarity.

“Our brother was on his way to stand up for dignity, justice, and a better life for all working people,” reads a statement from the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. “Together with our UAW brothers and sisters, we mourn as one united labor movement for his family, co-workers and friends.”

“Rest In Peace Brother,” reads a message from Laborers Local 43, which has offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque.

Union members are in the second full week of a strike demanding better pay and benefits, at a time when the company is taking in record profits. John Deere workers helped the company meet increasing demand and boost earnings by laboring through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as many other factories shut down due to outbreaks and health concerns. John Deere CEO John May saw his pay increase some 160 percent between 2019 and 2020, largely due to company stock prices and bonuses.

Some 10,000 John Deere employees walked off the job on Oct. 14, the first such strike in 35 years, after union members overwhelming rejected a contract that would’ve increased wages by 5 percent or 6 percent, but didn’t meet workers’ demands for higher wages and increased benefits.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter