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November 25, 2009
Harley Hogs Its Labor Options

We're in the reporting business here, not necessarily the approval business. With that understood, we note that a determined effort by Harley Davidson to wring concessions from the union at Harley's York, Pa., plant apparently is on the verge of success. Machinists Union officials are recommending to Harley's 1,950 York union members that they approve a new contract even though it's likely to cost nearly 1,000 of their jobs and introduce a "casual workforce" of between 300 and 400 union workers. 

The alternative, Harley started saying last spring, is to move the plant to another state. Shelbyville, Ky. has emerged as the leading contender for the York plant. Well, the motorcycle market has ebbed during the recession and maybe if the Big Three auto companies had been as tough-minded, Detroit (as we noted in my last post) wouldn't be so bereft today.

Does capitalism have to be such a rough relational business? Even though Harley is a consumer-savvy company, what other business/marketing alternatives were there over the years?

"There's not really much of a choice," said Tom Santone, directing business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District 98. "It either gets accepted or the company's going to move out. Nobody likes it; it's just they feel this is what they're going to have to do for the company to (stay) in York. Normally, when you negotiate, they're not planning on moving, and they're not throwing that in your face."

The Harley Plan is a great PR attraction for York, offering factory tours and immersion in motorcycling memorabilia. The Manufacturers Association of South Central Pennsylvania says it will help displaced employees find new new jobs. There's always the possibility of a hiring upturn if Hogs roar back, but it's been a brutal period in York. The union votes on Wednesday, December 2. 

Photo by Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press



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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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