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Harley-Davidson restarting production, bringing hundreds back to work

Harley-Davidson Inc. has resumed production at its U.S. manufacturing plants, with full staffing expected at the factory on Pilgrim Road in Menomonee Falls following Memorial Day weekend.

Currently, there are approximately 125 U.S. Steelworkers union members back at the plant, according to union officials, as Harley restarts production that was shut down in March after an employee tested positive for coronavirus and motorcycle sales plummeted in the economic fallout stemming from COVID-19.

The engine and drivetrain facility employs approximately 1,000 people.

“Pilgrim Road plans to bring all hourly employees back after Memorial Day weekend for full production,” Ross Winklbauer, a Steelworkers subdistrict director, said Thursday.

“A lot of it is going to depend on what goes on with the plant in York (Pa.), but the plan is to get everybody back,” Winklbauer said.

Addressing coronavirus, the company has staggered work start times and installed barriers between work stations.

“It’s going to be a new normal for them,” Winklbauer said.

In a statement, the company said: “Harley-Davidson has begun a planned phased approach to resuming production in its facilities, following the guidelines of public health and regulatory authorities and keeping employee health and safety front and center. At all of its facilities, Harley-Davidson has implemented enhanced safety measures, protocols to support social distancing and is bolstering its already-rigorous cleaning and sanitation practices.”

Harley has launched a set of actions that will eventually lead to a new strategic plan for the company.

Harley refers to the plan as The Rewire. Among the goals is to “…reset the company’s operating model in order to reduce complexity, sharpen focus and increase the speed of decision making.”

The Rewire program “…will focus more on the markets and products that can drive performance in terms of profitability and growth.”

In 2019, the company saw its bike sales in the U.S. drop for a fifth straight year and its global motorcycle shipments at the lowest level in a decade.

Earlier this month, the board of directors named board Chairman Jochen Zeitz president and CEO, a position he had held on an interim basis after president and CEO Matt Levatich left in February following 26 years with the company.

In an annual shareholders meeting Thursday that lasted only 15 minutes, Zeitz said the company was focused on its five-year strategic plan.

“Beyond our COVID-19 response, we must take significant actions now to rewire the company in terms of priorities, execution, operating model and strategy to drive sustainable and profitable long-term growth,” he said.

During the meeting, which was held online rather than in person, a shareholder asked why most of the board members were still in place given the company’s poor performance.

“A major shakeup needs to take place and get some new and real motorcycle people on the board,” he said.

Zeitz answered by saying there had been changes.

“That being said, we also expect to elect one new board member this year. I feel very confident that the board we have is giving us all the knowledge we need to take the company through this important rewire phase,” he said.

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