Unions End Partnership Agreement with Harley-Davidson

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Two labor unions have ended a partnership agreement with Harley-Davidson, citing differences with how the Bar & Shield brand handles staffing issues at its factories (Harley has been accused of replacing hourly union workers with temporary seasonal workers).

The move comes after a meeting on Monday, which saw leaders from the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM), United Steelworkers (USW), and Harley-Davidson President & CEO Matt Levatich unable to agree on how to handle staffing issues going forward.

While the disagreement ends an accord that has existed between the unions and Harley-Davidson for the past two decades, it does not affect the collective bargaining agreement that the unions have with Harley-Davidson, which has been incorrectly reported elsewhere.

“It has become apparent to me for the last seven years that Harley-Davidson has been and continues to systemically dismantle its hourly workforce through various means,” said IAM President Robert Martinez, in a letter to his union members working at Harley-Davidson.

Martinez went on to outline how Harley-Davidson manages its workforce in ways that hurt the employees:

  1. Using temporary workers employees instead of full-time and hourly workers
  2. Building factories in India, Thailand, and Brazil, rather than building them in the USA
  3. And, sourcing work to third-party providers

The unions’ complaints however seem to overlook the fact that Harley-Davidson’s sales, especially those in the United States, are constantly dropping.

Additionally, the motorcycle industry as a whole continues to suffer in terms of attracting new riders, with the only major growth markets occurring in protected territories, like South America and Asia.

Because of these pressures, Harley-Davidson reduced its work staff by 118 members earlier this year, and if sales trends continue, more workers will likely be let go from the company.

Harley-Davidson’s response to the union complaints seems to focus on the brand returning sales volumes to previous figures, which isn’t exactly a fair response to the unions’ complaints.

Even still, having recently released a bevy of “new” models that continue Harley-Davidson’s hyper-focus on the failing heritage cruiser market, one has to wonder though if Harley-Davidson’s strategy of doing more of the same will bring actually bring back any growth in the company’s unit sales. Time will tell.

Source: Milwaukee Business Journal

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.