Posts Tagged ‘Harley-Davidson’

IAM_Harley

As Emily Flitter reports,

For Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, there’s something awkward about the Harley-Davidson motorcycles that he has been posing on at presidential campaign stops: each one bears a sticker on its frame that reads “Union made in the USA.”

Walker has made the iconic American brand a centerpiece of his campaign kick-off tour this month, visiting four dealerships and sometimes showing off his own 2003 Harley Road King as he seeks to harness its appeal to older white male voters.

But there is another side to Harley that the Republican candidate has been less vocal about – it is a leading example of a successful company that has a strong relationship with labor unions.

Indeed, as Adam Davidson explained last year, Harley-Davidson’s resurgence has been on the basis of, not (like the rest of U.S. manufacturing) at the expense of, union labor.

But, in another U.S. irony, Harley-Davidson’s success has involved significant sacrifices on the part of its unionized workers:

Harley’s very existence was in question in 2009. Today it is a manufacturing role model, and that has a lot to do with its workers. The average tenure of a line worker at the York plant is 18 years, and these workers are extremely devoted to the company. (“How many factory workers have the company logo tattooed on their arm?” Dettinger asked me.) Magee said there was no question that the workers were earning their relatively higher wages. Costs have fallen by $100 million at the plant and quality has improved even more significantly. Customer demand is extremely high, especially now that people can get a bike within a couple weeks of ordering rather than waiting a year and a half. Harley’s stock price is back near the peak it reached at the top of the bubble in 2006. Craig Kennison at the research firm Baird told me that “it’s certainly the best turnaround I’ve ever seen.” Recently, the York plant won the Oscars of manufacturing: an IndustryWeek Best Plants award.

This sort of success wasn’t without a cost. The machinist union agreed to let Harley lay off 1,000 plant workers and implement a multiyear pay freeze. But every machinist I spoke with said that he understood that the alternative would be no jobs at all in York.

Yep, on both counts, only in America!