- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

YORK, Pa. (AP) — Nearly 2,800 union workers walked off the job yesterday at Harley-Davidson Inc.’s largest manufacturing plant, with small groups quietly picketing each entrance of the York facility.

The workers said they were prepared to stay on the picket lines for as long as it took to win a better contract than a company proposal they overwhelmingly rejected two days earlier.

“There’s no sense in doing this if we’re not going to stick together,” said Nevin Bechtel, 59, who works in the plant’s painting department. “If we regress now, we’ve lost everything we’re struggling for, and the company will think they’ve won.”

More than 50 workers gathered as the strike began at midnight, said Tom Boger, a union representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 175. Fifty members at a time were scheduled to picket throughout the day in three-hour shifts.

The company installed cement barricades to block access to all gates, even empty parking lots, Mr. Boger said.

The union voted Wednesday to authorize a strike after rejecting the company’s contract offer, which would have reduced pay rates for new hires, required employees to pay part of their health insurance premiums and forced pension concessions.

In anticipation of the walkout, the company shut down production at the plant on Thursday.

“We are obviously disappointed by the union’s decision,” said Fred Gates, general manager of Harley-Davidson’s York operations. “The proposed contract was structured to help manage future costs that could be detrimental to our business over the long term.”

But union members said they felt management’s proposal would be a backward step.

“If they had kept the contract the way it is, everyone would have been fine with it,” said Lucey Mrozinski, 43, a welding machine operator on the picket line.

Mr. Bechtel said the proposed two-tier wage system would hurt morale.

“We’ll still keep building first-rate bikes, but when the second-rate people take over, what are we going to build then? Second-rate bikes,” he said.

Russell Aldinger, 46, a mechanical assembler who said he had worked at the plant for 10 years, said he thought the company could afford to make a better offer.

“This company is very profitable, and for us to have to take concessions when we were earning the money that we were … I feel it’s ridiculous,” he said.

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