For the last 36 years York, Pennsylvania has been famous for three things: Peppermint Patties, Barbells and Harleys. Now it is starting to look like the motorcycles will be moving to Shelby County, Kentucky.
Harley-Davidson has been threatening to close its York assembly plant since last May. In 1972, American Machine and Foundry (now it is just AMF) the company that then owned Harley-Davidson converted an idle bowling equipment factory into an assembly plant for motorcycles. The plant now builds Softails and touring bikes.
It was state of the art when it opened in 1973. Last Spring, Harley-Davidson spokesman Bob Klein said the York plant is obsolete. “It relates to excess capacity. It relates to competitive and cost pressures both in the current economy and longer term,” Klein said.
The York plant employs about 2,400 workers who each make about $23 an hour, or about $45,000 a year. Harley thinks its workers should make less and has proposed ways to “cut costs” with the plant’s largest union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Early in negotiations, according to published sources, Harley proposed that new hires be paid $14.65 an hour or about $30,000 a year. Or, looking at it another way, Harley proposed that its workers should be paid about $6,000 less than the manufacturer’s suggested price of a 2010 Ultra Classic Electra Glide before sales tax, registration and dealer fees.
The current union contract expires next February. Workers are expected to vote on a proposed agreement next month. Harley has said it will announce whether it is staying in York or moving to Kentucky after the vote.
In September, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell offered Harley $15 million in taxpayer-funded incentives to modernize of the plant.
Come On Down
About two weeks ago Harley executives met with Kentucky Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes and several Republican State Senators. Hayes refused to disclose the incentives his state is offering. If Harley thinks the deal is sufficiently sweet, it will build a new plant in Shelbyville and hire about 1,500 new workers.
This week, Kentucky State Senator Gary Tapp told Maureen Hagrman of television station WHAS, “I’m excited. The community is excited. No negative on this one.” Tapp talked like a man who knows the deal has already been made. “Get the okay. Break ground in January.” He tersely explained. “First roll over in 18 months.”
There will be a public hearing tomorrow night at Shelby County High School to discuss a zoning change for a parcel of farmland now owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad. That is where Harley would build the new plant.