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Harley-Davidson Motor Company

harleydavidsonlogo-color.jpg This leading motorcycle manufacturer partners with its employees’ unions at every level, which boosts productivity and quality, and keeps jobs in America.

In Partnership With: International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), United Steelworkers of America (USW)

Democracy at work keeps good jobs at home

At a Glance

Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson went public in 1986. The company produces and sells motorcycles and related parts and accessories in more than 60 countries globally. The company has 49% of the North American heavyweight motorcycle market.

Milwaukee, WI


Automotive & Transportation

Union Employees
5,000 motorcycle division employees

Total Employees

Annual Revenues
$5.02 billion

810 U.S. dealership locations


300,000 new motorcycles sold at retail dealerships in 2004

When Harley-Davidson recently announced its intention to do business in China, it wasn’t another instance of an American company going overseas in search of cheap labor. Instead, the company plans to introduce its American-made motorcycles to the Chinese market. Harley-Davidson’s commitment to keeping jobs in America is linked to its partnership with its workers’ unions. Committees composed of managers and union representatives team up to make many of the company’s important decisions. This unique approach helped propel the company back to success after being on the brink of bankruptcy. By working together with its employees and their unions, Harley-Davidson has also become an employer that offers its workforce good wages, benefits, and job security.

In 1994, the company CEO met with the presidents of the major unions representing their workers—the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the former United Paperworkers International Union.1 The company and its union representatives agreed to collaborate and establish a High Performance Work Organization partnership. As part of the partnership, employees and management make consensus decisions that keep the company competitive and find efficient methods to produce high-quality products without compromising production levels, job security, or working conditions.

An outcome of this agreement is a commitment to partnership extending to each and every employee. For instance, Harley-Davidson created a partnership implementation committee at its headquarters, and according to Human Resource Management International Digest, the company’s factories and local unions have similar committees.  At each manufacturing location, workers review and sign a joint partnership agreement.  In these working groups, union stewards and business managers reach decisions by consensus, an approach that has proven more effective than the traditional top-down management system.

Empowering worker participation in decision-making is a vital part of the company’s code of conduct and manufacturing process. Harley-Davidson’s interactive manufacturing process allows workers to shape every aspect of production to improve quality and efficiency. At the same time, workers have employment security and can take advantage of retraining opportunities.

Harley-Davidson’s status as a market leader is due, in part, to its inclusive labor relations model that allows for the free flow of ideas, new techniques, and shared decision-making.

Selection Criteria

> Free and fair choice to form a union

> Collaborating as equal partners with workers and their unions to craft innovative strategies on compensation, performance, and productivity to meet business goals and address challenges

> Providing sustainable wages or
progressive increases and workerfriendly

> Creating new jobs and implementing
employee retention strategies

> Offering training and professional
development opportunities