Hardball for Harley’s Kansas City Workers

November 5, 2010
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Harley-Davidson is calling for concessions from its workers at the Motor Company’s Kansas City plant. The Kansas City Star reports that without changes to the labor contract, H-D has said it may have to move KC operations to its facilities in York, Pennsylvania.

Labor vs. Management. Kansas City workers are next in the concession line as Harley-Davidson threatens to move production once again. Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell.Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell

If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s because Harley played the exact same cards when it threatened to shut down production operations in its home base of Wisconsin. Workers later agreed to slash 325 union jobs from the Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk plants. The new agreement also called for the replacement of full-time workers with part-time workers, or as H-D refers to them “casual” workers. (Harley-Davidson Stays in Wisconsin )

Harley pushed through the concession-filled labor contract in Wisconsin with implicit threats that production would be shifted to the Kansas City plant. Harley also scored $25 million in tax breaks from the state of Wisconsin in the proposed move (UPDATE: Harley-Davidson has since turned down the $25 million incentive from the state).

H-D followed the same modus operandi last year when it threatened to shut down its plant in York, Pennsylvania. Harley said it was slated to move the York production to Shelbyville, Kentucky. With Kentucky’s Governor, Steve Beshear going so far as to reportedly pledge a special legislative session to offer incentives wooing H-D jobs.

York workers would go on to ratify a labor contract in December of 2009 that slashed the workforce from approximately 1950 to 750. (Harley-Davidson to Remain in York)

Now the rotation could conceivably work out in York’s favor, as the Pennsylvania facilities are slated as the relocation of Kansas City operations.

The Kansas City news got lost in the shuffle when Harley-Davidson announced earlier this week that it would open up an assembly plant in Haryana India, as the American manufacturer looks to crack the high-volume Indian market. (Harley-Davidson to Open India Assembly Plant)

As for America’s Kansas City workers, they’ll get the holidays to mull over their fate. H-D is expected to announce its KC plans in the first quarter of 2011.