About 120 employees at John Deere Harvester Works will be laid off in a move to match production levels at the East Moline plant to an anticipated decline in the large farm equipment market.
The employees — all production workers — will be placed on indefinite layoff effective March 31, Moline-based Deere & Co. said Thursday in a news release.
According to Deere spokesman Ken Golden, affected employees were informed of the layoffs during meetings Thursday before the news was shared with the plant's entire workforce.
"It's never, ever easy to have a layoff, but it's necessary to remain competitive," he said. "We have over a long period of time said the size of our workforce in any particular factory will be matched to market demand for that product in that particular factory."
Harvester Works is the company's largest combine plant, employing nearly 2,800 people. About 2,000 are in production jobs. Deere said the layoffs will be based on seniority.
The announcement came a day after Deere reported record first-quarter earnings and indicated a slowdown ahead in the farm equipment industry.
Golden said the layoffs are "a direct result of what we said three months ago and yesterday (in the earnings release) — we believe the farm industry in the U.S. and Canada will be down 5 to 10 percent."
In its earnings report, Deere said it expects a decline in 2014 farm incomes. Although incomes will remain at healthy levels, the company said the deline could have a "dampening effect on demand, especially for larger models of equipment" off the record levels Deere achieved in 2013.
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Deere said the layoffs only affect workers at the East Moline plant. Golden declined to speculate whether any of Deere's other ag equipment plants could face similiar layoffs.
In a prepared statement, Steve Doye, president of United Auto Workers Local 865, which represents Harvester Works, said the union has heard from a number of community organizations willing to assist those being laid off. "We would like to express gratitude to those in Harvester Works management who chose to provide affected members as much notice as possible," the statement said.
To the affected workers, Doye pledged the union's support. "Many of us have faced the same uncertain future in years gone by and understand how difficult this is for you and your loved ones. We'll support you in any way that we can. We have you and your families in our thoughts."
The last major layoff at Harvester Works was in September 2009, when 367 workers were put on indefinite layoff. Most were called back within five months.
In the past few years, Deere has hired hundreds of employees at its Quad-City plants, including 450 at Harvester Works, Golden said. "We went through three record years and those were driven by ag equipment sales, and especially large equipment like combines, so as we see that market is becoming softer, we have to adjust."