Wisconsin Harley Workers Vote to Save Plants

September 13, 2010
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Harley-Davidson employees from the company’s Milwaukee and Tomahawk plants will vote today on a labor contract aimed at lowering production costs by enacting a seven-year wage freeze and eliminating hundreds of full-time jobs in favor of the use of part-time employees. The Journal

Harley-Davidson employees at two of its Wisconsin plants are faced with difficult decisions today that will ultimately lead to whether or not they stay open.

Sentinel posted a letter issued to Harley-Davidson employees on September 7 from CEO Keith Wandell stating “This vote will determine whether Harley-Davidson production operations stay in Wisconsin or are moved to another U.S. site.” If the contract fails to pass, the letter says “the Board will act the following day on its previous tentative authorization to move and we will immediately move ahead with the process to relocate production operations.”

The Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk plants combined employ approximately 1300 who risk losing their jobs if the contract isn’t approved. The company’s powerplants are produced at the Milwaukee plant while windshields, saddlebags and other fiberglass manufacturing takes place at the Tomahawk facility in northern Wisconsin. The Tomahawk Operations facility was established in 1963.

The proposed contract would subject most long-term workers to a seven-year wage freeze with provisions for tentative raises in the final two years. It calls for the reduction of 200 jobs at Menomonee Falls and about 75 jobs to be slashed at Tomahawk. These positions would be filled by “casual workers” as needed who would receive an estimated $16.80 compared to $30.50 for the same work done by full-time employees. “Casual” employees are not entitled to medical or retirement benefits, they can be terminated without cause, and they are not guaranteed a minimum number of work hours or shifts.

High labor costs in Wisconsin are one of the factors claimed to be forcing Harley-Davidson’s hand, but its modus operandi of issuing ultimatums is an aggressive stance. “We are on a

Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell
Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell has the company’s long-term in mind but the short-term decisions are coming at a high cost to morale.

course to build a competitive company for the future and a business that is sustainable long term,” Wandell’s letter said. “Nothing can get in the way of this objective.”

Workers at Harley-Davidson’s York plant know the plight of the workers at Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk all too well. In December of last year, York employees had to vote on a contract that drastically reduced its workforce in addition to other concessions in order to keep the plant open in Pennsylvania. The letter Harley-Davidson issued to employees at its Wisconsin plants uses York as a point of reference for success stating “… we are seeing great momentum and high levels of engagement from the workforce.”

Harley-Davidson has already scouted out a few alternate sites that could “provide the competitive structure, operating system alignment, flexibility and return on investment that we must have.” Though H-D is mum on exactly where they might move operations to, Kansas City has been mentioned as a potential suitor in internet buzz. Harley’s Vehicle & Powertrain Operations are currently conducted in K.C.

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