Union leaders: Harley Davidson “out of touch” with plant workers
Mitchell A. Skurzewski
TOMAHAWK – Harley Davidson and its union steelworkers are locked in a labor dispute and it is looking murky whether a new deal will be reached soon.
The last agreement between Harley and its steelworkers was in 2012, with the current deal expiring on April 1. The United Steelworkers rejected a recent contract proposal from Harley Davidson.
Despite the expiration of the current deal, union workers will continue to work under the old contract while negotiations have been extended to April 14.
Harley executives expressed disappointment in a statement last week, and stated they provided a competitive wage increase in each year of the most recent five-year offer. According to a press release from United SteelWorkers – the union which represents Harley Davidson employees – presidents Mark Eihlers (USW Local 2-209 in Milwaukee) and Darrin Ernst (USW Local 460 in Tomahawk) stated there are four major concerns with current conditions: temporary workers wages and path to become a full-time employee; a program which employs casual workers to increase production but results in layoffs later in the year; the amount of work being moved out of plants and lastly union seniority.
One major concern is the amount of work being moved out of the plants, according to the press release. In 2010, the workforce in Milwaukee was 1,250 and is now nearly cut in half at 637 regular employees. In Tomahawk, staff has been reduced by 100 workers from 370 to 270, according to the press release.
In the press release from the union presidents it states “Harley Davidson is out of touch with the workers at the plants in Milwaukee and Tomahawk.”
One of the issues brought forth by the union regards temporary workers, some who have worked at the plant for as long as seven years who are working at a “lesser wage” with no benefits and “no real path to become a regular full-time employee.”
The release said that additions have been made to the company’s pension plan, but a key problem is that new workers will be excluded from the plan.
The SURGE model ramps up Harley Davidson plant production from January through June, by employing casual workers. However, employees struggle with the temporary layoffs that result in the fourth quarter for regular workers, with some layoffs lasting multiple weeks, according to the press release.
Regarding seniority, the USW contests that longer tenured workers are getting laid off while shorter-tenured employees are being kept on.
Harley Davidson said in a company statement that there were no changes to healthcare coverage, but what concerns the USW is the company has the ability to change any part of the healthcare plans every year.
The release states, “This creates financial uncertainty for employees as the company has made changes over the term of the current contract. Any increase in contributions could easily negate any proposed increase in wages.”