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News From USW: Steelworkers Approve Agreement With Harley Davidson; Look Forward to Power Train Expansion in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE--News From USW: United Steelworker (USW) members of Local 2-209 have voted by a 943 to 536 count to approve a memorandum of agreement to their labor agreement with Harley-Davidson that requires the company to invest more than $120 million to expand production of the companys power train capacity in Milwaukee, creating more than 100 new jobs and providing job security to the 1,600 union members already employed locally, according to local union president Jim Wheiland.

The memorandum of understanding will allow the company to hire new employees at a lower wage rate.

Now we can look forward to expanding here, rather than worry about a rival plant that would produce the same product with newer, state of the art equipment, Wheiland said. We have the finest, most talented and most dedicated work force in the country. Based on our record alone, weve earned this new investment but again, our membership has gone one step further by alleviating the companys concerns about future costs.

All Harley-Davidson Big Twin and XL power trains are now produced in Milwaukee. If workers had rejected the proposal, the company said that it would expand production outside of Wisconsin.

This work belongs in Milwaukee, said Jon Geenen, USW District 2 Director. Our unions first priority was to keep the jobs right where they are. Harley is a part of the community and we want those jobs to be there now and for future generations. Now the company can scrap its plans to visit other sites.

The lowest starting wage rate for new hires will be $18.25 an hour for power train production jobs, but the union-negotiated training program will encourage workers to move up into machine operator positions that will pay $24.42 an hour. Current employees in those positions will continue to earn $28.83 an hour.

COLA payments will be suspended until 2012 for all employees and the new hires will not be eligible to participate in the contributory annuity that is administered by the company. However, the new hires will be covered under the defined benefit pension that pays a multiplier of $47 for every year of service.

A new cost-sharing health care package will cover new hires on Jan. 1, 2007, and cover all employees on July 1, 2008. It has the same choice network as the existing plan. Two levels of coverage require no employee contribution. The third one, called the Heritage Plan, will require a monthly contribution of $15 to $25 for a single person, and between $47 and $78 for family coverage.

The health care plan will remain in effect until 2012, Wheiland said. The company cannot change it, no matter how much health care costs increase. Our membership is protected.

The labor agreement expires on April 1, 2008, when the union and company return to traditional bargaining. Everything will be on the table with the exception of those items specifically addressed in the memorandum of understanding just approved.

In 2012, we can address every issue, Wheiland said. The upside is that Milwaukee Iron will continue to be made right here in Milwaukee where it belongs.