By DINESH RAMDE
Associated Press Writer
WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Harley-Davidson workers in southeastern Wisconsin approved a contract Monday that included steep concessions after the company threatened to move hundreds of production jobs out of the state.
The proposed seven-year deal includes freezing employees’ pay, slashing hundreds of jobs and assigning large volumes of work to part-time workers. Some 1,140 union members who work at the Menomonee Falls plant in suburban Milwaukee voted on the deal. It was approved by a 55 to 45 percent margin.
Harley-Davidson Inc. executives had said they would move production out of Wisconsin if the contract was rejected. That would have eliminated about 1,350 jobs.
Union president Mike Masik said the close vote reveals how grudgingly his workers approved the deal.
“It shows people are really getting sick of being threatened,” said Masik, the president of the Local 2-209 chapter of the United Steel Workers.
The contract included a one-time lump-sum payment of $12,000, an artifact from a previous grievance settlement. The money goes to all active employees and to laid-off workers who were eligible to be called back.
A number of those laid-off workers voted yes, saying the money was a big factor.
“I was laid off, I had no chance of being called back so yeah, I wanted the $12,000,” said Greg Kuehn, a 49-year-old machinist who has since found work at a printing company.
The Harley workers make motorcycle engines in Milwaukee and windshields and other components in the northern Wisconsin city of Tomahawk. Monday’s vote affected Milwaukee workers, while Tomahawk employees were scheduled to vote on a nearly identical contract later in the day.
Some union members who lingered outside the Waukesha County Exposition Center, where the vote took place, were angry over the motorcycle maker’s contract demands. “For Sale” signs hung on about a dozen of the approximate 100 Harley motorcycles parked outside the center.
Union member Greg Voelzke, 52, said he voted against the contract because it included no guarantees the company would stay, even with concessions.
“We came to battle today, not for victory, but to fight another day,” said Voelzke, who has worked for Harley-Davidson for 22 years. He said he did not want to support a contract that offered so little.
Chief Executive Keith Wandell had urged Wisconsin employees to approve the unpopular contract, which the company called its lone and final offer. He wrote a letter last week telling the workers it was up to them to decide whether they wanted to remain part of Harley’s future.
“We are on a course to build a competitive company for the future and a business that is sustainable long term,” the letter said. “Nothing can get in the way of this objective.”