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Harley-Davidson decision could put the brakes on York County workers

Written by Abbey Zelko/The York Daily Record | Jun 27, 2018 7:13 AM
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Scott Whitfield rode up from Germantown, Maryland, for the Harley-Davidson open house on Thursday. Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record

(York) -- Early this year the workforce in York County wrestled with some mixed emotions. Harley-Davidson, one of the most powerful employers in the region, was closing its Kansas City plant and eliminating about 800 jobs there. But about 450 jobs would be moving to the Springettsbury Township assembly plant. 

In May, about 150 people showed up for a hiring informational session at the Crispus Attucks Center for Employment and Training in York. It was way more than expected, said Michael D. Jefferson, director of employment and training for the center. He thought maybe they'd get about 50 people or so.

He said wanted to help people get jobs at a company with a long-standing reputation.

Over the years, Harley has offered top-paying jobs for blue-collar workers, he said. Such manufacturing work was a mainstay in York County. With a job like that you could raise a family and have a decent retirement.

But now, the company needs fewer workers, and those who do work there aren't guaranteed long tenures, he said.

This week's news that Harley-Davidson plans to move more motorcycle production and send more jobs overseas bolsters such concerns. The decision comes amid a tariff and trade dispute between President Donald Trump and the European Union.

Harley-Davidson said in a public filing Monday that it would need to move production overseas because of tariffs being imposed in Europe against U.S.-made motorcycles. The move is necessary to preserve its second biggest sales market, the company said.

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Motorcycles parked outside the Harley-Davidson Motorcycles Factory in York County. (Photo by Lisa Wardle/WITF).

The motorcycle tariffs rose from 6 percent to 31 percent, adding an average of $2,200 to the cost of a motorcycle, according to a report from USA Today. The Europeans are targeting iconic U.S. products such as motorcycles, blue jeans and bourbon in retaliation for Trump's tariffs on European steel and aluminum.

Harley did not specify whether it would close any U.S. plants or lay off any workers. But when the company recently mapped out plans to shift some production to a new factory in Thailand, the company announced it would close its plant in Kansas City, Missouri, and add some jobs at the York facility.

"People would give their first born to get a job at Harley-Davidson," Jefferson said. "And here they're talking about sending jobs overseas again, which is not good."

Robert D. Miller, directing business representative of Machinists Union District 98, which represents Harley employees in Springettsbury Township, said the union has known for more than a year that Harley-Davidson was building a plant in Thailand.

"At this point, Harley's motive for moving work overseas is not really what our members are concerned about," he said. "How the decision will affect our employees is our No. 1 concern."

President Trump took to Twitter Monday to criticize Harley. He suggested the U.S. motorcycle maker was being disloyal to him.

"Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag," Trump tweeted. "I fought hard for them and ultimately they will not pay tariffs selling into the E.U., which has hurt us badly on trade, down $151 Billion. Taxes just a Harley excuse -- be patient!"

On Tuesday, he tweeted: "A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!"

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Harley Davidson in Springettsbury Township, York County. (Photo by Lisa Wardle/WITF)

Harley-Davidson currently manufactures parts and bikes in Australia, Brazil, India and Thailand as well as Wisconsin, Kansas City and York.

Congressman Scott Perry - who votes in line with Trump's position more than 85 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight - called this tariff war "detrimental" in a statement Tuesday.

"Harley-Davidson provides quality, family sustaining jobs in our community, and I'm disappointed that these policies are projected to have such a negative impact," Perry said. "Tariffs are detrimental to our economic goals, and I'm hopeful that the President will resolve these trade disputes quickly for the long-term benefit of American working families."

George Scott - Perry's democratic opponent in this year's congressional race - pointed out that York is one of only three cities in the country that manufactures Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

"The York manufacturing plant, the bikes that it produces and the jobs that it provides are a point of pride for the local community," he said in a statement Tuesday. "It's unacceptable for all of those things to be endangered because of a situation - resulting from a policy decision that was entirely avoidable ... I'm sure the President's goal was to help American manufacturers, but he has taken some very bad advice when crafting and implementing the current policy - which has resulted in the opposite of the intended effect, and American workers are now facing the threat of possible job losses."

Miller, the union official, declined to comment on Trump's position, saying that his members "just want answers. They just want to know what their future holds as far as being an employee of Harley-Davidson."

At a meeting on Monday, Harley management could not answer questions about how the move will affect the future of the York facility, Miller said.

Jefferson said he believes Harley is still a good company and a good place to work. He's been placing people there for 30 years.

But when something like this happens, the workers are always the ones who get the short end of the stick.

"You hope that business and politics can work together, but when it doesn't, the one who ends up suffering is the employee," he said. "That's who I feel the worst for."

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record.

 

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